Updates

September 18, 2006

For those of you playing along at home, I have updated several recent articles with the correct categories. They may show up as new again for you. My apologies.

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Reading today at ha.ckers.org web application security lab, I was intrigued by RSnake’s comments about internet security:

I’ve never been a fearmonger, but for the first time in my life I’ve found myself telling people, “I don’t know a company I couldn’t break into.” Every system I’ve found has vulnerabilities. There was something Bruce Schneier wrote a number of years back (and I’m paraphrasing here) that said that for every man hour it takes to build security it takes n+1 to break it. That is, if there are vibration mics in the ground it will take exactly n+1 the time it took to place them and test them and get them working properly as it would to break in.

On Mythbusters episode 59 the other night the crew cracked into several physical devices like fingerprint scanners, and walked past various versions of motion detection devices (with something as simple as a pane of glass). The point being here are always way around security, physical or otherwise. In the case of JavaScript port scanning it is similar to a Trojan horse. The idea is to sneak something otherwise normall and innocuous into an internal interface.

JavaScript seemed the most likely candidate, so we tackled that first. Yes, that means nearly every company on earth is vulnerable to that. Is that the only weapon in the arsenal? No way. Are there ways to fix it? We’re already working on them. Will that solve things? No way. It will just shift the problem elsewhere at best, and at worst, it will continue to be an esoteric attack vector that is only used by the few people who really get it’s consequences.

What really struck me is the concept that every system has vulnerabilities. William Gibson wrote about computers, networks and cracking those networks in Neuromancer,Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive, a wonderful trilogy that started me out with a healthy skepticism and love of networks and computers. I love what you can do with a computer and linking them together but I have no illusions that anything created with and/or stored on a computer is anything more than 1s and 0s and can be altered or deleted with a moment’s notice. I’ve got a rather decent network set up at my home and neighborhood, wired and wireless, that neighbors are free to use (hopefully with permission) and a beefy firewall between me and that semi-public network and another one between the semi-public network and the internet at large. I know that all of these can be cracked; my only hope is in making it difficult enough that someone else is a more attractive target than I am.

If you haven’t read the above trilogy then hop, skip and jump down to your local library and get them, all three, at once. Trust me; they are quite entertaining. You might even learn something.

As a postscript, I still find it amazing that William Gibson published those stories between 1984 and 1988, long before the World Wide Web came into existence and the internet as we now perceive it was conceived of, let alone implemented. Even more amazing is that at the time, the world was experiencing the beginning of the personal computer with the IBM PC beginning its invasion and the Apple Macintosh nipping at its heels. I started college at Utah State University in 1984 and as a student had access to a rather advanced VAX/VMS mainframe computer. We did our homework on it, chatted with students at other universities in real time, sent email, even played text games that stretched the limits of that system (ASCII version of Star Trek rocked! Still one of the most fun games I’ve ever played). Twenty years has me typing this on a laptop that would dwarf that VAX System with a PocketPC sitting in its cradle, ready to go where I want to and still connect to any local network.

I can’t imagine what computers and networks will be like in the next twenty years – but I’ll bet William Gibson has.

Shimmer Summer 2006 Issue
The Summer 2006 issue of Shimmer: Available August 1.

Heat makes the air shimmer. It’s too damn hot to write marketing text. Buy a copy of the Summer 2006 Shimmer. Read it.

Why? 8 new stories, art, and an interview with writing team Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta.

Angela Slatter, Tom Pendergrass, Paul Abbamondi, and Marina T. Stern return with stories of books, bureaucracy, blood, and heartbreak. Amal El-Mohtar and Stephen Moss make their fiction debuts. Beverly Jackson tells a fish tale, and Michael Livingston talks about gnomes. (Check out our Featured Author page to hear Michael read the story.)

Bonus: after reading, the print version works as a fan! Our pdf readers are on their own.

Books!

August 29, 2005

Yes, books. I love books; paperbacks, oversized comics, all of them.

However, I love hardbacks the best.

Partly because they hold up better over multiple readings, partly because the first editions are printed on archival paper so they last longer.

I think I’m a bit of a twit about it though. I’ve been collecting First Edition Science Fiction and Fantasy hardbacks for, well, a long time. I read them, some of them multiple times, and I love to collect them.

Unfortunately, it is a bit of an expensive hobby; a hardback can run between 25 and 35 dollars. Ouch.

Now, I love the dust jackets and all, but I don’t sell them. If I buy it, I’m keeping it. With that in mind, I don’t mind buying the discounted books at Barnes and Noble or Borders. Sure, there is a little black mark on the pages but it doesn’t affect the dust jacket or the way it reads, so I don’t care.

A couple of years ago I discovered bookcloseouts.com and I find I don’t buy much anywhere else now. For a little more than a hardback, I just received four beautiful hardbacks in the mail:

Hmmmm, I think I like books in series… (this is no revelation; I have at least six series that I’m waiting for the author to finish up before I read them. I’m strange that way. I may give up on Robert Jordan though). I did notice that Amazon has these discounted at around 16-18 each, but since I got all four delivered to my door for 33$US, I think I still got the better deal at bookcloseouts.com.

Back in the dawn of time, I used to haunt the Waldenbooks at Fashion Place Mall. If I didnt’ have any spending money (I was a teenager in high school then) I went to the library. However, if I had some money I was in the book store looking for something new to read.

At the time I didn’t draw a line between science fiction or fantasy – they were both great escapes for a somewhat shy kid that loved to read. I would look at the covers and then read the back teaser paragraphs and find the one or five that I wanted to read. It was during this time that I discovered some of my favorite authors: Larry Niven, Barbara Hambly, Roger Zelazny, Harry Harrison, Frank Herbert, Spider Robinson, Ann McCaffrey, Katherine Kurtz, Steven Brust and Julian May.

Julian May was definitely an impulse buy – great cover, enigmatic teaser and it promised more to come as it was labeled Volume I of The Saga of Pliocene Exile. I thought it was a fantasy – the cover looked it and the teaser spoke of a ‘one way tunnel’ to a different world. I thought it was going to be something like Witch World (Andre Norton, another early favorite). I took it home and … was confused. It was a futuristic science fiction novel! On top of that, it was building these characters that were, well, very flawed. Now, most of the protagonists of the stuff I like to read are flawed to some extent; that is part of what we like about them. These people, at least some of them, were downright sociopaths. Fun though.

So, they go down the magic tunnel and I’m expecting now it will become the fantasy novel I expected. Nope. Fantastic elements, yes, but still rooted in the ‘real world’ of the novel. This isn’t a criticism, by the way. At 38 and re-reading it for probably the 10th time I am still intrigued by the detail and texture Julian May pulled out of this first book. References to events that don’t happen until the eighth book (which I don’t think was planned at the time of this first book’s writing) and detailed backgrounds on the social structure these people were leaving helps you to understand some of the forces that shaped these very flawed people.

Ms. May points out (which you will realize as you read it) that many of the characters and personae are drawn from the myths and legends of Europe and Western Asia. There are exotic, beautiful aliens as well as some rather nasty aliens as well; history and biology lessons woven into the tale; and a great story.

There are a couple of plot holes, but I didn’t notice them when I was sixteen and I barely notice them now. For me, this saga is very comfortable now but I remember it as making me think about people and the way they affect their environments on previous readings. It is a great start to a wonderful series. On top of that, I’m reading it more than twenty years after its first publication and it still holds up to the thousands of books I’ve read since. That is quite an accomplishment to me.

A wonderful account of the travels of Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine as they careen around the world looking at some of the animals on the brink of extinction. From lemurs in Madegascar to gorillas and rhinoceros in Africa to the kakapoa in New Zealand and even a dolphin on the Yangtze river they travel and photograph these amazing and often tragic creatures.

Even more wonderful than the travelogue is the wit and writing of Douglas Adams. Funny, insightful and at times poignant, it was a true joy to read. I read aloud several passages just to get the feel of the words; I don’t know if that is how Mr. Adams wrote his book (I suspect it wasn’t) but this reads so well out loud it seems intentional.

There are so many wonderful stories in here that it is impossible to pick one out over another. The pursuit of a prophilactic in China is quite humorous as well as descriptive of the cultural differences. The Latvians (heh) on the way to see the Gorillas, the poisonous venom specialist, the kakapoa tracker all are wonderful characters painted on Mr. Adams paper canvas.

If you can find this book, buy it, borrow it, do whatever you have to but read it.

You won’t be sorry.

I really miss Douglas Adams. It has been nearly four years since he died suddenly (at the time of this writing) and I have finally had the courage to read Salmon of Doubt – Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time. As long as I didn’t read it then I could deceive myself that there was still more of his writings to discover; kind of putting off the realization that he was truly gone.

Mind you, I never met him in person. In fact, I had read the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the rest of the trilogy (before that label didn’t fit) a couple of times before I realized that what I was reading was just brilliant. It was a great story, but hidden under the layer of the story was a commentary and satire on human society that was biting and loving at the same time. In my defense, I did read them when I was rather young and naive; now I’m just old and naive. More adventures of Arthur Dent and company and then wham! Dirk Gently explodes onto the scene! Outstanding.

One of my cherished hardcovers is a first edition of Last Chance to See by Douglas and Mark Carwardine, chronicling the possibly last glimpses of fascinating animals nearing extinction. The view of these animals is wonderful but it is his commentary that brings this journey to life. Here is a glimpse into the mind of Douglas Adams and I was startled to discover just how wonderful a place it must be.

Anyway, Salmon of Doubt is a collection of unpublished works, newspaper articles, biography and other items that sketch an outline of Mr. Adams. There are excerpts from Last Chance To See, which he had professed to be his favorite work. His first published item is there as well, a letter to a magazine when he was but a lad.

The book is organized around the title of one of his novels, Life, The Universe and Everything. I didn’t read it in a single sitting, as I’ve a habit of doing. Instead, I read a story or two at a time and then set it down, picking it up again later in the day for a helping or even the next day. I found myself going back and reading bits because they amused me or were insightful; sometimes just because it felt right.

If you are looking for a critique of the book, well, this is the wrong place. However, if you have even remotely enjoyed any of his books, I suggest you at least check this out from your local library and give it a whirl. Set it in the bathroom, put it in the car for lunch breaks and see if you don’t enjoy it. I dare you.

“Everyone, meet under Adams.”