Book Review: Cybersecurity for Everyone

Standard

Cybersecurity for Everyone: Securing your home or small business network by Terence L. Sadler is an informative guide to securing your electronic devices at home.

One risk of writing or speaking about cybersecurity is that it can quickly devolve into “gloom and doom” that terrifies audiences, sends them away chilled, but results in no behavioral changes among computer users.  Sadler’s approach is different, focusing less on threats and more on preventative measures.

Cybersecurity for Everyone compares information security to safe sex:  the only guarantee against contracting an STD is abstinence, and the only guarantee against a compromise of your network is to not have a computer.  Since there are no guarantees on computers, the best we can do is use appropriate prophylactics and practice safe habits.

Sadler suggests starting with router security.  Until reading this book, I did not realize how vulnerable to intrusion typical residential routers can be, or that superior models and configurations are available.  One thing computer owners can do is to blacklist all electronic devices but their own, or expressly whitelist their own devices.  Sadler also suggests using a service like OpenDNS for home internet security.  A few suggestions in the book may go overboard, but I’m glad to know what the best practices are so I can make informed decisions, rather than mindlessly renewing my anti-virus protection every year and patting myself on the back for it.

The book is a pretty quick read, and it provides valuable context for understanding of cyber threats and safety measures.  It came out in late 2014, but is still fresh.  There are some tables and lists of resources that will probably become dated quickly or already have, but I mostly skipped over sections.  To me, the more important takeaway was the basic point that amping up your security at home is feasible and affordable without sacrificing performance.

As for the title, this book isn’t really “Cybersecurity for Everyone.”  It’s more like “Cybersecurity for Fairly Technically Literate People,” or “Cybersecurity for Whoever It Is in Your House That Installs Stuff.”  Much of it would sail over the heads of people who don’t already have some interest or knowledge of technology.  Furthermore, the subtitle of the book adds “or small business network,” but the tips within are truly geared toward a household, not to businesses.

Advertisements

Book review: The Looters is an overlooked gem

Standard

Bank heist book cover

What an underappreciated storyteller was John Reese.  In some ways an heir to James Cain and Dashiell Hammet, Reese was able to create visceral plots infused with palpable greed, criminality, and menace in sunbaked California landscapes.

The Looters (1968) was billed on some book covers as “The exciting and violent story of a bank robbery.”  Indeed, the book includes such a story, but that doesn’t do it justice and the story doesn’t end there.  The Tres Cruces National Bank isn’t exactly as clean and pure as the wind-driven snow.  Investigators initially suspect that the robbery was an inside job orchestrated by somebody within the shadowy, mostly Italian owned parent entity that controls the bank.

Everybody loves money, but few people like numbers or financial complexity.  Even fewer can tolerate reading about the subject.  Reese is one of those rare authors who is able to convey a complicated financial caper to thrill his readers rather than crossing their eyes.  He did it with Two Thieves and a Puma and again with this book.  His quirky characters and their motivations are what carry the readers through the turning points in his plots.  Reese also usually takes time to explain what the financial interests of the different players are so readers don’t get lost.

In The Looters, Reese also shows that he is the master of creating characters who are complete jerks.  Take J. J. Schirmer, a bank executive who is not only prejudiced against Italians (constantly referring to his business partners as greasy Sicilian bastards or “Sicilian perverts”), he’s vile to work for.  In one of several scenes like it, Schirmer needlessly berates his driver, Eddie, at 8 a.m.:

Schirmer put down the phone and shouted for Eddie.  The chauffeur had slept in the lounge outside, and was still not dressed. ‘I been waiting to hear you was awake, Mist’ Schirmer,’ he said.

‘All right, you heard. Go get me a pot of coffee.’

‘I cain’t go like this, seh. I phone for it and have it here before—’

‘God damn it, I could have phoned for it. I want to use the phone!’

‘I go fetch it.’

‘Never mind! I’m going to take a shower. Call for some coffee and then put in a call for Sybil at her place.’

The Looters is filled with deliciously nasty dialogue like that, and characters like Schirmer who show their cruelty, caprice, and superiority complexes at every turn.  Molly, a hired gun working for the Italians, is a world-class sadist and creep tasked with hunting down the bank robber before law enforcement gets him.  They are all harsh to take, but fun to read about.

The downside to the host of characters is that there isn’t a single antagonist or a single hero.  There are good qualities and bad qualities on all three sides of the character triangle:  the bank robbers, the bank owners, and law enforcement.  The lack of a single main character gives the book a different style and impact than the movie, which focused on Varrick (and made him more genial than the hard and ruthless robber in the book).

Reviews of this book have noted that the ending is different from the movie.  That is true, and in several ways, the film’s ending is superior to the book.  The memorable biplane chase from the movie is nowhere to be found in the book.  Whoever came up with that idea for the movie deserves credit for the exciting addition, which was quite sensible considering that Charley Varrick and his partner were crop dusters in the book.

The book’s ending was jarring.  The scene where Molly finds Charley occurs too suddenly, with very little build-up.  It would have been improved if Molly had to chase a few more leads prior to finding Charley, and if their physical confrontation had been more drawn out.  Because of that and the murkiness about the main character, I bump this book down from five stars to four.

That being said, this is still a sweat-inducing pistol of book ideal for a late-summer read.

Book review: Where Angels Prey is informative read

Standard

Indian financial thriller

In Ramesh S. Arunachalam’s thriller, Where Angels Prey, Bob, a Western journalist, arrives in India to write an article about Prasad Kamineni, a micro-finance executive.  He teams up with Chandresh, an eager local journalist aware of the darker side of micro-finance in India.  Veena Mehra, district magistrate of Ranga Reddy (in Andhra Pradesh), is also conducting an investigation into Prasad’s business.

Many of the micro-finance debt collectors, including those employed by antagonist Prasad’s SAMMAAN bank, are conducting loan shark style tactics.  They humiliate and threaten borrowers to the point where the debtors, such as a sympathetic widow named Mylaram, commit suicide.  Another case unfolds during the action of the book, where Rammaiyya, who was going to serve as an informant against SAMAAN, is mysteriously killed.  These cases are a continuation of the ruthless tactics used by money lenders that Maoist insurgents fought against in earlier decades.

Micro-finance is a much celebrated concept in the West, and the leaders of the micro-finance movement such as Muhammad Yunus are lionized as heroes ushering in a new era of equity and opportunity in the developing world.  This informative book sheds much needed light on a concept that is not so rosy in reality.

 As narrative fiction, Where Angels Prey could have been improved.  The syntax takes some getting used to for an American reader.  While the author is a skilled writer, there are grammatical oddities and formatting issues that could have been reduced with a more professional editing job.  The present tense verb choice throughout the narrative is awkward.  A constant parade of characters gets confusing, especially since many of them are not substantially developed.  Just as soon as you learn about a new character and start to get a feeling for him or her, they disappear.  It is more of an “ensemble cast” than a book with a single main character. Either Bob or Chandresh is the hero of this financial thriller, but the story probably would have been strengthened by picking one of them to develop further.  Veena’s investigation was duplicative of the journalistic one.  Also, there is a lot of “telling not showing”: abusive tactics are described in general, rather than experiencing them all through eye-witness accounts in real time.

On the plus side, the novel was suspenseful.  One wants to learn how it all turns out for Prasad, who is a compelling villain who is also sympathetic in several ways.

People who are interested in predatory lending, poverty, international development, and socioeconomics should check this novel out.

Book review: Zoo 2 is fast and fierce

Standard

2016 thriller novella cover

Clever scenes, exotic locations, and, for an animals-attack thriller, nothing too over the top.

James Patterson’s Zoo 2, which Patterson and his marketers call a “bookshot” is actually a novella and a sequel to the longer 2012 novel, Zoo.  It picks up where the original left off, with intrepid, un-credentialed scientist Jackson Oz and his family in Greenland taking refuge from the resurgence in animal attacks ongoing in the U.S. and other temperate regions.

The President summons Jackson back into action.  Jackson decides to leave his wife Chloe at her parents’ home in France while he goes to research the possible spread of aggressive behavior from animals into isolated human cases.  Some readers don’t seem to like the concept that “humans are evolving” in this sequel.  There is a ‘feral human’ story line, and it worked for me!  The dangerous human theme doesn’t go overboard into full zombie apocalypse mode, but it’s a serious enough threat that it changes the dynamics from the original Zoo book or the “Zoo” TV series. If this sequel had only been another series of animal attacks, it probably would have unsatisfying, boring, or both. The feral human angle gave it an extra dose of horror.

Zoo 2 is well-written—a step-up in professionalism compared to some other monster novels out there.  (This may be thanks to Patterson’s co-writer, Max DiLallo.) The shorter novella platform was just right for the subject matter and for me. A quicker read than the original Zoo with fewer hokey set-ups.

The only thing I didn’t like about the book is something that happens early on at Chloe’s home in Paris.  Let’s just say that two people end up dead, when killing off one character would have worked just as well.  Especially considering that Chloe didn’t seem to be that upset—you think she’d have been devastated, possibly for the rest of the book.

Book review: Two Stars for Second Life

Standard

second-life-of-nick-mason-steve-hamilton-review

Clever idea that got off track.

A Chicago mob boss in prison arranges for the release of a fellow inmate 5 years into a 25-year sentence to become his assassin on the outside.  Once free, Nick Mason, a former car thief, finds out that being released to kill people is worse than being in prison, even though his targets are mostly dirty cops.

It is an intriguing concept.  Quintero, Nick’s handler on the outside, tells Nick early on that freedom is different from mobility—don’t get the two confused.  Great line.  And it sums up the plot of the novel.  Nick is mobile because he left prison, and can basically go where he wants, but he’s on call 24/7 to carry out a hit.  The mob boss, Cole, controls Nick, and threatens his family if he tries to wiggle out of the 20-year deal.

However, for a man who had only stolen cars to become a cop killer almost overnight is tough to swallow.  He’s able to run circles around all of his targets and almost all of the other characters in the book.  Maybe if Nick made more mistakes, or had a somewhat darker past, it would be more plausible.

Just as easily as Nick becomes a master assassin, he proves himself to be quite the lady’s man, quickly meeting a woman who wants to know “what five years feels like.” Eh hmm.  Most of the female characters seem interested in either getting in bed with Nick, or with scolding him for ruining their lives in the past.  There’s not much middle ground.

While Nick is running around killing people, a homicide detective named Sandoval is on the trail of the corrupt cops.  The scenes involving Sandoval and the SIS, an elite police unit, are a bit complicated and tricky to follow.

I listened to the audiobook which was a mistake.  The narrator’s tone was extremely bitter in the first 20 percent of the book, which makes some sense because it is set in prison.  However, some lines that I would have read as factual commentary are dripping with venom in the audiobook.  In other words, the tone was overkill.  The mob boss’s voice sounds like a cross between Lucious Lyon from “Empire” and Barack Obama, which was distracting.  Each female character sounded identical, flippant, and naggy.  The narrator has great vocal talents but overall this narration didn’t work for me.

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Standard

Old-fashioned looking page from Shakespeare's play

Get ready for sex and a big party!  So says Theseus, Duke of Athens: “Stir up the Athenian youth to merriments.”

Now comes Egeus, unable to govern his own daughter, with a complaint.  The overprotecting father is incensed about the sweet things young Lysander has done to woo his Hermia, rebuking Lysander’s “feigning voice, verses of feigning love.”  He wants Hermia to marry Demetrius instead.  Let me kill her if she disobeys me, Egeus tells Theseus.

Theseus tells Hermia “your eyes must with his [your father’s] judgment look.”  He gives her until his own wedding date with war bride Hippolyta to make up her mind.

Hermia attempts to elope with Lysander, but she is chased by Demetrius into the woods.  Helen, Hermia’s friend, chases after Demetrius, hopelessly in love, telling him “I am your spaniel.”  More insightfully she adds, “We cannot fight for love as men do:  We should be woo’d, and were not made to woo.”

Elf king Oberon sends his jester Puck to spread love potions around.  Lysander, under the influence, falls for Helen, asking her, “Content with Hermia? No:  I do repent / The tedious minutes with her have spent.”

Theater people plan a production for Theseus’s wedding.  Their hope for the ladies in the audience is “not to fear, not to tremble.”  They settle silly details about the play, and Quince adjourns them, saying “Come, sit down, every mother’s son, and rehearse your parts.”

Bottom plays Pyramus, who wears an ass’s head.  Oberon’s queen awakes to fall in love with Bottom, who says “reason and love keep little company.”

Oberon sends Puck to fix his mistake with Lysander by making Demetrius love Helen.  She thinks both men are mocking her and complains excessively.

Oberon and Puck make things right:  Titania comes to her senses, Lysander loves Hermia again, and Demetrius keeps his love for Helen.  Upon Demetrius explaining his feelings to Theseus, the Duke says, “These couples shall be eternally knit” in a triple wedding ceremony.

In the play-within-the-play after the wedding, Pyramus thinks his lover Thisbe has been killed, so he kills himself.  Finding his body, Thisby does the same, in the style of Romeo and Juliet.

In the final scene, Shakespeare says it’s late, and tells everybody to have a good night.  Wink, wink.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a fairly quick read, appropriate for spring or summer, with great lines about the fickleness of love.  We should each read it at least once in our lives, no?