Review: The Circle
Somehow, I was expecting a science fiction story, but The Circle is not that. It’s true that technology takes a central role, and some of it is slightly beyond what’s possible today. There’s even some light speculation (e.g. society’s ready adoption of a universal identification system, or The Circle’s purchase of Facebook’s data), but it’s conveyed in passing and taken for granted by author Dave Eggers and his characters. The story doesn’t hinge on any of this, though, so the unchallenged predictions aren’t so much plot holes as they are expressions of cynicism.
Review: A Wizard of Earthsea
Even though I’m not much of a fantasy reader, I had high hopes for A Wizard of Earthsea. It came highly recommended, and even a quick scan of the Wikipedia page demonstrates that everyone has loved this book for years. It was more than just hearsay, though: from The Left Hand of Darkness, I’ve learned that author Ursula K. Le Guin is a technically strong writer and particularly adept at exploring challenging themes.
It's your browser: Choose Wisely!
Which web browser are you using right now? It’s okay if you’re not sure. Actually, that would be a good sign. If you said, “I’m using Chrome 68 because that’s the only way I can pay my bills,” then that wouldn’t make the web (or your banking website) seem like such a friendly place. If your answer was more like, “I’m using whatever my niece installed because it works fine,” then as a web developer, I’m glad you don’t have to worry about it.
The Web Can't Survive a Monoculture
Many developers work on the “web platform” because they believe in the model of competing and interoperable implementations (i.e. browsers). These folks (of which I am one) believe that competing and interoperable implementations is what makes the web fundamentally stronger than other platforms. Unlike Windows, iOS, or Android (for example), the web’s users have choice about how they participate. If they disagree with how their chosen browser is being managed, they can switch to another.
Review: Goodbye iSlave
In Goodbye iSlave, author Jack Linchuan Qiu interprets the term “slavery” in relation to the electronics manufacturing industry. Like the title, most of the book’s content focuses on Apple and its supplier Foxconn, using the name “Appconn” to describe the alliance. Qiu’s concern is much more broad, though. In the opening pages, he writes, “The ailment of a Chinese factory, let me emphasize, is a symptom of global pandemic, for which Appconn is but one concentrated embodiment.
Review: The Cuckoo's Egg
In The Cuckoo’s Egg, astronomer-turned-detective Cliff Stoll chases down a trespasser on his university’s computer network. The chase winds across the US, through the networks of US defense contractors and US military bases, past satellites in orbit, and even into computers as distant as Japan and Germany. Despite there being very little physical action, the process of untangling this path (and avoiding detection in the process) is surprisingly satisfying. Stoll recounts the whole ordeal with great detail, likely thanks to his rigorous practice of note taking.
Unless you’re a web developer, you probably missed the announcement that Microsoft Edge (the browser that comes with Windows 10) is being rewritten to use the Chromium project under the hood. Chromium powers the Google Chrome browser, so Edge is going to start to display websites just like Chrome does (even if the things like the URL bar and bookmark list look different). When VP Joe Belfiore announced this change, they shied away from explaining why this is necessary.
Review: Kali Linux Revealed
I started reading Kali Linux Revealed because I wanted to learn a bit about the work of professional penetration testers. I’m also interested in the specific software tools those folks use. In my experience, books on GNU/Linux tend toward operator manuals, so I was fairly confident I’d find content like that here. I was disappointed on both fronts. While the book has some information on the trade of penetration testing, it’s limited to about 20 pages in the penultimate chapter.
Review: Click Here to Kill Everybody
By networking everything, we are making awesome things possible. I mean awesome in the sense of inspiring awe; much of the potential is also awful. The empowering nature of technology, particularly its tendency to become faster, cheaper, and simpler over time, means that destructive capabilities are being pushed down to small nations, corporations, organizations, and even individuals. In his latest book, Bruce Schneier tries to sort out the risks, precautions, and likely effects of this situation.
Review: The Tangled Web
I came across this book when looking for a more practical follow-up to Applied Cryptography. (Being a web developer, my interests are focused around Internet security.) I believe Amazon recommended it to me, and I was convinced by the pedigree of the publisher (No Starch Press) and the credentials of the author (Daniel Zalewski). Zalewski seemed to anticipate my concerns specifically, and addressed them in his introduction: In any case, through the remainder of the book, I will shy away from attempts to establish or reuse any of the aforementioned grand philosophical frameworks and settle for a healthy does of anti-intellectualism instead.