Public Transport + Reading = Teh Win

Since I started my new job I have been taking public transport again. Of all the things I hate about Dutch public transport – many, many things I hate…but hey, let’s be real, it’s better here than it is in most places in the world – there is one thing that I love about it, and public transport in general. It is something that I touched upon in a conversation with my friend Claus, a Danish student that most know as Van Der Litreb, or “Veed” for short, is that you have plenty of time to catch up on reading. Like my homework when I was still in school, reading almost always takes the backseat over more important things I can do while at home. Like going to the bathroom, picking my nose, and watching the ceiling. Not to mention Neverwinter Nights – I swear to you, that game is crack on CD-ROM. Anyway, so I’ve been reading a lot, here’s a breakdown of what I’m reading…concurrently.

“Hacker Culture” by Douglas Thomas
This is a book I happened to stumble across in Strands Bookstore on 12th street in New York City when I was there a few weeks ago. This is a used bookstore, and I visited it after spending three hours at the Barnes & Nobles on Union Square. When you walk in there, it looks like a mad-house, with really high-reaching shelves crammed with old, used books. Sometimes the books are still in mint condition, but most of the time you stumble across old and manky books, stacked high on the shelves of this maze-like store. It’s not for me, really…but still, it’s sort of humorous when the first thing you look for when picking up the book is the year of first print. Anything before 1980 on the topic of computers I ignored, and I was left with this book, in mint condition.

It’s a dissemination of the hacker culture, and its evolution since it first sprang up during the Second World War. Even though the author gets caught up in far too much psycho-babble for my tastes, I have to admit that the guy did his homework. It’s a comprehensive look into the world, the culture and the identity of hackers all over the world, and how that image and culture has changed over the years. It also touches upon how the media, literature and cinema have helped shape the hacker culture into what it is today, and what drives hackers to hack, and phreakers to phreak.

“Universe in a Nutshell, A Brief History of Time”, By Stephen W. Hawking
I don’t have a big brain for physics, but I think it’s extremely facinating, especially theoretical physics. Now, I know a little bit about a bunch of things regarding physics, but not enough to tie it all together in a consistent whole, you know? So I thought I’d bone up on some general principles of physics. To fill the gaps, so to say.

I have to stand in line to praise Dr. Hawking in the wonderful way that he can make the most complicated matters in physics transparent for even the most neophyte reader. Amazing, informative and educational.

“Cryptonimicon”, by Neal Stephenson
This is a novel, written by critically acclaimed author Stephenson, who is responsible for such books as “The Diamond Age”,“Zodiac” and “Snow Crash”, and is a good primer in cryptological principles.

In good tradition Stephenson manages to combine both historical information, with information technology by having two timelines running concurrently; one is set in the middle of the Second World War, where cryptology was first used in such an intense manner that it became the foundation of what it is today, and the second is set in the modern day, where people are trying to start the world’s first real Data Haven, an almost utopic idea in which computers are free from tampering and everyone can store any information on it, without censorship, without having to fear persecution.

I keep jumping from one book to the next, but I’ve already promised myself that I would focus on “Hacker Culture” first, until it’s finished. I have my work cut out for me for the next few weeks.

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