Lauren Ipsum

By Carlos Bueno

Rating: 4 stars

This is a quite sweet fairy tale about a girl who gets lost and has to find her way home, going through the traditional quests and challenges. It also just happens to be a lovely little primer on some of the fundamental concepts and problems of computing science (without any mention of computers).

It’s short and I was able to read it in an afternoon. It was nice to see a lot of concepts that I’m familiar with as a CS graduate and software engineer by trade be introduced here so subtly that (hopefully!) any child reading it won’t realise that they’re learning. There are also lots of lovely puns for adults or those who have a CS background to admire/groan at (delete as appropriate).

This is going to go on my bookshelf until my niece is a few years older, at which point I’ll pass it on to her to try and begin her indoctrination to computing.

Oh, and a nice little touch for a C-style programmer such as myself is that the page numbering started from page 0 :-).

Book details

ISBN: 9781461178187
Publisher: Createspace
Year of publication: 2011

Worm: The First Digital World War

By Mark Bowden

Rating: 2 stars

This book sets out to tell the story of the Conficker worm that spread around the Internet in 2008 and 2009. It does this through the eyes of the group of security researchers and professionals that coalesced from around the web to deal with it.

I had a lot of problems with the book. The tone feels patronising throughout, and the author always seems, to me, at least, to be condescending to the “Tribe” of geeks (as he refers to them throughout) who are the main characters in this story, and to the wider community. There was a degree of padding, which didn’t help either (yet another retelling of the birth of the Internet, for one), and the impression that his understanding of the technology was limited, which led me to distrust what he was telling me. On top of that, there was an awful lot of hyperbole, from the title (first digital world war? Really?) onwards, which felt out of place in a book of this kind.

The later chapters, including the politics within the Conficker Working Group (or ‘Cabal’) and the attempts to get the various branches of government interested in the problem were more interesting, but the central problem of the tone and unreliable narrator spoiled an awful lot.

Oh, and the constant capitalising of “Port 445” throughout was really irritating.

Book details

ISBN: 9781611856064
Publisher: Grove
Year of publication: 2011

Joystick Nation

By Joystick Nation (Paperback)

Rating: 3 stars

I found this going cheap in the perpetual book sale in my University Library. It’s a pop-history of video games that was published in 1997 which, given the rate of development of computers, makes it practically medieval. Even so, it was an interesting read, covering the development of games from the very early mainframe games through the arcades of the ’80s right up to the newest consoles of the time (the N64 and Sega Saturn).

The book was written by an American and so focusses very much on North America, missing some of the developments that happened on this side of the Atlantic, particularly, I feel, in the ’80s when the 8-bit computers such as the BBC, C64 and Spectrum were so popular here. It covers several sociological trends that were probably transnational and still makes for interesting reading, even if it is heavily biased towards the US.

What I found slightly odd about the book is that the author did seem to mostly consider gaming to be an occupation for children, but then the 20- and 30-somethings who play games now were kids when the book was written and the games industry itself wasn’t as mature as it is now, when it caters to all ends of the market (the best example of a girl-oriented game that the author could come up with was Ms Pacman!).

Also, the book came out just when games on CD-ROM were starting to become popular for PCs, but the PC gaming market still hadn’t really taken off, so focussed a lot on consoles, although the chapter on the “military-entertainment complex” was interesting (basically suggesting that most of the development into game graphics and complexity came from the military).

I found the tone of the book quite odd. It had footnotes and references to academic papers all over the place, but the narrative tone was distinctly personal and popular, even throwing in the odd swearword, perhaps to be ‘edgy’. It mostly worked but sometimes the juxtaposition was somewhat jarring.

Overall, this was an interesting, if somewhat dated, history, from a trans-Atlantic point of view. I’d be interested in reading a more up-to-date edition, and one written from a British perspective.

Book details

ISBN: 9780349107233
Year of publication: 1997

Secrets of Computer Espionage: Tactics and Countermeasures

By Joel McNamara

Rating: 4 stars

This book was a pretty comprehensive introduction to electronic espionage, covering everything from what to do when you have physical access to a machine to network attacks, searching for evidence on a compromised machine and more. It took it from both the point of view of the attacker and defender, first talking about methods of attack and then countermeasures. Although it didn’t necessarily go into great detail, there were a lot of links to the web and references to tools a spy could use. A good overview of the subject.

Book details

ISBN: 9780764537103
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons
Year of publication: 2003

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