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?
The Cobham catalog, exposed by The Intercept, features countless pages of surveillance gadgets sold to U.S. police to spy on American citizens: tiny black boxes with a big interest in you. In the creepily bland feature lists and nerdy product names is a whisper of a dark future; perhaps darker than anyone can imagine.
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