Whil I was on holidays, I read Stealing the Network: How to Own a Continent. This is the sequel to "Stealing the Network: How to Own the Box," and like the previous volume, it consists of short stories written by extremely talented hackers in which the computer bits are reported so faithfully that the books can be thought of as especially colourful HOWTOs, technical documents dressed up with narrative.
As such, they are terrific. I would much rather read a Stealing the Network volume than any hundred HOWTOs and Anarchy Filez: STN has the tone of a really good bullshitting session at a DefCon or Hackers on Planet Earth, hackers spinning war-stories about hacks they've pulled off, or have conceived of. Make no mistake, these are imaginative and brilliant technical people.
As stories, these pieces are sometimes clumsy. The prose rarely rises above journeyman level (it's at its best when the authors stick to declarative, Hemingwayesque sentences, but too often they stray into "colourful" similes and descriptive phrases that can be cliched and even unintentionally funny), and there's not a lot of characterization to be had, and virtually no character development. That said, the book is still a rip-snortin' read, mostly because while it's not the best fiction ever written, it is some of the best, most engaging technical nonfiction you're likely to find.
A couple of the stories are very funny -- I'm particularily fond of the "A Real Gullible" piece, which is an homage to one of the great hacker farces of all time, Real Genius. There's a lot of that kind of nerd humour and nerd folk art sprinkled throughout this volume, and for that alone, it's worth reading.
It's a good formula and a smart one, too: how else could you produce a tech book that was still worth keeping in print 18 months later?
I asked Amy Parness, the co-founder of Sparkle Labs, maker of fantastic educational electronics kits, to write a Medium post about gender and the business of being a maker business person. Her terrific essay calls out the problems with “pink girly engineering kits.” From Medium:
Zero UI is the new term for “invisible interfaces”—what happens in the future when all the clicking and tapping and typing is history: “If you look at the history of computing, starting with the jacquard loom in 1801, humans have always had to interact with machines in a really abstract, complex way.” [Fast Company]
CEO Dick Costolo will resign, to be replaced in the interim by Jack Dorsey
The Lytro Illum dares to be different, boasting even more robust features than its first generation predecessor and a sleek design reminiscent of professional DSLRs. What’s so cool about it? Most cameras capture the position of light rays, producing a statoc 2D image.
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