Are you looking for some interesting summer reading material? These recommendations are ready to take to the beach, or just entertaining yarns (and some true tales thrown in to for good measure). They also make great gifts for your favorite nerd.
Zero Day by Mark Russinovich
This novel is by the guy behind many of the wonderful utilities that came out of Sysinternals, and is now working for Microsoft. It follows a worm that finds its way into various control systems, such as airline autopilots, nuclear plant control systems and power grids and is told by a series of characters, including a NSA staffer, a white-hat hacker, a law firm IT manager and even terrorists. Zero Day is a very entertaining read between the action and a plot that is technically accurate and interesting at the same time -- and the sex scenes don’t hurt either.
Idea Man by Paul Allen
Idea Man chronicles the founding of Microsoft and the trials and tribulations of working with Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, as well as the many businesses Allen started after leaving the company. Certainly, Allen's timing was impeccable with Microsoft -- he made billions when the company went public, but soon after lost plenty investing in all sorts of ventures. He was the big-picture guy in these relationships and his side of things rings true to my experiences with at least the Microsoft portion of his memories.
The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick
The Information comes from a frequent writer of technology topics. It covers short bio sketches about people who were prominent in the creation of the IT industry, including some of the figures in the next book, The Difference Engine. Find out how we got to our modern computing environment, which started with African drummers, and how it led to the present. Many familiar stories make this a fascinating read.
The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling
This decade-old classic comes from two well-known sci-fi authors and represents the original battle of the Luddites before the term became popular in the PC era. Here, they provide a fictionalized alternate history that is well-grounded with a variety of actual players, including Charles Babbage, Ada Byron and other figures of the 1850s. It also looks deep into the notion of mechanical computers and the origins of punch cards.
The Most Dangerous Man in the World by Andrew Fowler
This book is written by an Australian reporter who followed the doings of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. It chronicles events from his childhood to how he ran Wikileaks and put together the various media moments that have had significant play over the last few years. The book brings up several good points for journalists and technologists to think about, including how sources who act in good faith should be protected and who should be punished, as well as how the case of Manning and Ellsberg are similar or differ. It also details what the role of journalists should be in the online media era. What makes this piece most interesting is how there are no good guys in the tale. Fowler says at the end that Assange is “either a man of little credence who has fanned the cult of personality around him, or a journalistic savior, depending on your point of view.”
Helvetica and the New York City Subway System by Paul Shaw
A design instructor at Parsons, Paul Shaw shows us the process by which the Helvetica type font has been used by the New York City transit system. This coffee table book is also chock full of wonderful illustrations showing the evolution of the font. It’s intriguing for those who can’t distinguish Helvetica from Standard fonts and is also a story of political intrigue and personalities, made all the more interesting with the signage that was used then and now.
When Gadgets Betray Us by Robert Vamosi
How much data do you leak to the environment on any given day? It’s a lot more than you think. This non-fiction book reviews some of the problems that electronics have brought to our lives. For example, the new keyless car fobs are actually less secure than its predecessor. In fact, experienced car thieves can use laptops to re-program their entry to steal cars with ease. And did you know your hotel room TV remote can be used to ensure that you never pay for any movies or mini bar items with the right combination of key codes? Or that Car Whisperer software can be used to overhear what is being said in a nearby car via Bluetooth?
Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo by Nicholas de Monchaux
As someone who grew up fascinated by the space program, I really enjoyed this book. It documents the design of the Apollo spacesuits. You would think it makes sense that a company like Playtex would get this contract, but it took NASA a while before it was selected over the hardened suits that were the initial favorite of the military. This book covers a lot of additional ground, including the New Look by Dior fashions, the role of latex and city planning and other concepts that brought about the final suit design and execution.
Gödel Escher Bach by Douglas Hofstadter
This book is more than 30 years old and is something of a touchstone for me. It details how Bach fugues, Escher's infinitely wrapped drawings and Gödel's math theorems all relate to each other. The notion of strange lops and recursion -- things that are taken for granted in today's computing circles -- come alive. This book is a huge undertaking, but if you can stick with it, the rewards are great and the insights and connections that Hofstadter shares will keep you fascinated long after you finish this piece.
CyberWar by Richard Clarke
Clarke was a national security advisor to several presidents and now teaches at the Kennedy School at Harvard. Here, he covers the chilling account of what is wrong with our government and how unprepared we are for Cyber World War I. How so? Think of a cyber war in terms of nuclear proliferation and the Cold War preparation. But unlike what we did in the 1960s to defend against nuclear annihilation, we are taking the wrong steps toward cyber defense. Instead, we have made America more of a target because so much of our infrastructure, weapons, culture and our PCs are out in the open and ripe for the picking. Clarke shares how we need to harden our Internet connections to best defend ourselves from cyber attacks.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Strom is a freelance writer and professional speaker based in St. Louis. He is former editor in chief of TomsHardware.com, Network Computing magazine and DigitalLanding.com. Read more from Strom at Strominator.com.
This was first published in June 2011