The Game is Rigged

The game is rigged. We all know it. So what? The art is learning how to navigate within the structure for your own benefit. All it takes is a change in your perspective. Care about others a little bit less; care about yourself a little bit more. Selfishness rules the world. Dog eat dog and all that rot. It is kill or be killed; take or be taken.

I get out of bed and stumble toward the kitchen.

How can I face another day of constant warfare? I need coffee. Food. Maybe something stronger. I glance at the stove and the sink and am reminded of tasks not done. Blurgh, no clean dishes, no clean pans. No eggs for me.

I hear my alarm. What was it I was supposed to be doing? Oh, yeah. A heavy sigh pushes my body a little closer to the floor. I trudge to the bathroom for a quick brush of the teeth and hair. Time to head out.

I exit the flat. The dingy hallway closes in on me. I am reminded again of my status. Dog eat dog; I chant my new mantra, trying to convince myself. I must get out of here. This life is killing me.

I see the sign on the elevator. Out of order. Again. It has worked exactly two days in the last month. I stumble down six flights of stairs.

The lobby lights are dim. Only one working bulb in the entire room. The trash by the mailboxes remains from last week. Not my responsibility. I try to convince myself. I cleaned up the lobby every week this year. I am starting over. Time for some other dog to be devoured. I’m done.

I exit the building. The streets are dark. I hate having to leave so early. The bus will arrive at my stop soon. Only two bus changes today. That is better than my old place, but it still takes too long to get to work.

Brr. Dirty snow consumes the sidewalk, except on the narrow path created by my neighbors’ feet. No one shovels in the slums. No one cares. No one issues citations. The law doesn’t apply here, unless they want to crush someone.

Six blocks go by. Only one more and I will reach the bus stop. No building here to block the wind. A shiver overtakes me. I need a new coat. Sigh. I need to make rent.

I check my phone: 6:00 am. The bus should arrive in 5 minutes. I look around. No one else is here. That is odd. I check the posted schedule. Unchanged. Is it a holiday? No. WTF.

6:05. No bus. 6:10. I will miss my connections. Still no one else at the stop. Finally, someone strolls by. Do you know what is going on? Bus strike today?! I can’t afford a taxi. I don’t have a car. No one is able to give me a ride. No work today. Pay rent or buy food? The game is rigged.

Attacking Network Protocols

I am always trying to expand the boundaries of my knowledge. While I have a basic understanding of networking and a high-level understanding of security issues, I have never studied or read up on the specifics of packet sniffing or other network traffic security topics. This book changed that.

Attacking Network Protocols: A Hacker’s Guide to Capture, Analysis, and Exploitation takes a network attacker’s perspective while probing topics related to data and system vulnerability over a network. The author, James Forshaw, takes an approach similar to the perspective taken by penetration testers (pen testers), the so-called white hat security people who test a company’s security by trying to break through its defenses. The premise is that if you understand the vulnerabilities and attack vectors, you will be better equipped to protect against them. I agree with that premise.

Most of us in the Free and Open Source software world know about Wireshark and using it to capture network traffic information. This book mentions that tool, but focuses on using a different tool that was written by the author, called CANAPE.Core. Along the way, the author calls out multiple other resources for further study. I like and appreciate that very much! This is a complex topic and even a detailed and technically complex book like this one cannot possibly cover every aspect of the topic in 300 pages. What is covered is clearly expressed, technically deep, and valuable.

The book covers topics ranging from network basics to passive and active traffic capture all the way to the reverse engineering of applications. Along the way Forshaw covers network protocols and their structures, compilers and assemblers, operating system basics, CPU architectures, dissectors, cryptography, and the many causes of vulnerabilities.

Closing the book is an appendix (additional chapter? It isn’t precisely defined, but it is extra content dedicated to a specific topic) that describes a multitude of tools and libraries that the author finds useful, but may not have had an excuse to mention earlier in the book. This provides a set of signposts for the reader to follow for further research and is, again, much appreciated.

While I admit I am a novice in this domain, I found the book helpful, interesting, of sufficient depth to be immediately useful, with enough high-level descriptions and clarification to give me the context and thoughts for further study.

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy. See also: Are All Book Reviews Positive?

Learn Java the Easy Way

This is an enjoyable introduction to programming in Java by an author I have enjoyed in the past.

Learn Java the Easy Way: A Hands-On Introduction to Programming was written by Dr. Bryson Payne. I previously reviewed his book Teach Your Kids to Code, which is Python-based.

Learn Java the Easy Way covers all the topics one would expect, from development IDEs (it focuses heavily on Eclipse and Android Studio, which are both reasonable, solid choices) to debugging. In between, the reader receives clear explanations of how to perform calculations, manipulate text strings, use conditions and loops, create functions, along with solid and easy-to-understand definitions of important concepts like classes, objects, and methods.

Java is taught systematically, starting with simple and moving to complex. We first create a simple command-line game, then we create a GUI for it, then we make it into an Android app, then we add menus and preference options, and so on. Along the way, new games and enhancement options are explored, some in detail and some in end-of-chapter exercises designed to give more confident or advancing students ideas for pushing themselves further than the book’s content. I like that.

Side note: I was pleasantly amused to discover that the first program in the book is the same as one that I originally wrote in 1986 on a first-generation Casio graphing calculator, so I would have something to kill time when class lectures got boring.

The pace of the book is good. Just as I began to feel done with a topic, the author moved to something new. I never felt like details were skipped and I also never felt like we were bogged down with too much detail, beyond what is needed for the current lesson. The author has taught computer science and programming for nearly 20 years, and it shows.

Bottom line: if you want to learn Java, this is a good introduction that is clearly written and will give you a nice foundation upon which you can build.

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy. See also: Are All Book Reviews Positive?

Then She was Born

Eleven Nobel Peace Prize laureates. The Dalai Lama. Pope Francis. These are just some of many who support an initiative to #HelpAfricanAlbinos. In many countries, people with albinism are discriminated against, harassed, and persecuted. There is too little understanding and too much false information.

Then She was Born is an attempt to spread awareness of the problem using a fictional account of a girl, Adimu, who is born in a village. We see her struggle for survival against powerful superstition and tradition. Using information taken from the accounts of many African albinos, the story is gripping, moving, and also a call to action. The book was originally written and published in Italian by Cristiano Gentili as Ombra Bianca and has been masterfully translated into English for the reviewed edition by Lori Hetherington. The story is engaging, with characters that are relatable and deep.

Prior to reading this book, I had heard passing mentions, but had no real knowledge of the issue. This is a work of fiction, but it is based on real events and there are real lives at stake. I will share this book with anyone among my friends who will read it and I recommend it highly to those who are not local to me.

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy. See also: Are All Book Reviews Positive?

Manga Art

Illustrators generally get paid to work on projects. This means taking someone else’s vision, story, or text and bringing it to life in pictures. Doing so requires special talent as the illustrator must listen to and absorb someone else’s ideas before creating their accompanying artwork. Mark Crilley is a talented and experienced illustrator who got the chance to find out what would happen if he pitched a book that contained illustrations that didn’t follow a specific theme, a book about illustrations without being a how-to book, a book about the art. We all benefit because Watson-Guptill Publications accepted that proposal.

Mark Crilley’s Manga Art: Inspiration and Techniques from an Expert Illustrator is a beautiful and fun jaunt through Crilley’s imagination. The art contained in the book is diverse and masterfully created. There is no storyline. There is no plot. There are no editors or committees. This is a book created “in an atmosphere of complete artistic freedom.” It works.

The book is arranged in five sections, an organizational scheme that seems likely to have been imposed after most of the illustrations were created. The sections each contain a set of illustrations that fit a general theme, grouping together sketches and full-color illustrations of characters, Japan, science fiction, conceptual art, and styleplay. Each illustration includes interesting comments from Crilley describing the art. These sometimes focus on the craft of creating the piece, sometimes on a thought or experience that influenced the image or sparked its creation. Occasionally there is a cool “Your Turn” tip connected to an illustration to help the reader think about ways to enhance their own creations.

This is a fun, interesting, enjoyable, and inspiring book that makes me want to walk away from my computer and pick up some art supplies.

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy. See also: Are All Book Reviews Positive?

Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery

I enjoy graphic adaptations of classic novels and short stories. Admittedly, sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. This is an instance of the adaptation working, very well.

Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”: The authorized Graphic Adaptation is a lovely and perfectly horrifying adaptation of the 1948 short story. The book was scripted and illustrated by Jackson’s grandson, Miles Hyman. Hyman does an excellent job of staying true to the original feel of the story with haunting, deep images that evoke genuine emotion. The words on each page are sparse, letting the artwork communicate much of the story. This is a wonderful use of a different medium to project the same message and creepiness of the original and required true translation skills. Hyman succeeds. There is a rhythm here that is controlled and which builds from mysterious to worrisome to absolutely horrifying. Fantastically done! If you enjoy the genre, this is worth your time.

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy. See also: Are All Book Reviews Positive?