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Life in Italics

Books, blogs, articles and other stuff

Before I cobble together my thoughts on the coolest (and most dangerous?) computer virus in the short history of computer viruses (viri? I’m in a quizzical mood), I wanted to take a moment to let you know that, yes, I do intend to blog about the book that I’m reading… As soon as I finish it. Given my curent pace of literary consumption and understanding, that could well be next year. Histories aren’t exactly quick reads, and given that I started this one with very little in the way of native knowledge on the subject, I’m moving through it at a snail’s pace. I’m sure you’ll be riveted by the review if it ever comes.

In the interest of keeping things moving here on the blog, though. I thought I’d do a more regular posting of blogs that I’m reading. If you follow me on Twitter (@matthroberts), you already know that one of my favorite blogs is Fast Co. Design. It’s an eclectic mix of awesome design projects from around the world. I regularly read and link articles that are interesting to me (and now that Liss has hooked me up with Pinterest, you can see what I think is interesting anytime - not that you care to). Anyway, I was reading Infographic Of The Day: The Computer Virus That Crashed Iran’s Nukes, and I quickly hit the video that the article referred to.

The production quality of the video itself is astoundingly fresh, but the content – wow. The video seems to take for granted that folks already have heard about Stuxnet (otherwise known as the coolest computer virus in history), but this was my first exposure (see what I did there?). Because I’m highly considerate of my loyal readership of 4, I’ve embedded the video below for your enjoyment. Take 3 minutes to watch it.

How crazy is this virus? Seriously – the entire world has been trying to derail Iran’s nuclear efforts, and along comes some unknown group and does everyone else a huge solid. Thanks fellas. If Barack Obama got the Nobel Peace Prize for simply getting elected, surely the Nobel Foundation can find a way to award the prize to an anonymous group. Of course, the video ends on an ominous tone: the virus is available as open-source code. Which means if someone can unravel the world’s most complicated computer virus, they will wield an unimaginable amount of digital power.

The most thoroughly interesting part of this story to me is that Iran has now beefed up its digital task force to have the second largest team of hackers on a government payroll in the world. They’ve got access to the open-source virus as much as anyone else, and they still haven’t figured it out. It could be that the publishing of the source code of the virus was one of the largest proverbial middle fingers in history. A way for whatever group that constructed the virus to taunt Iran after the fact. Whether Stuxnet ultimately returns with another crippling implementation or not remains to be seen. One thing is clear, though: Stuxnet is awesome in every sense of the word.

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Sorry for the long gap between posts. I know all 4 of you are excited to see me active again. Anyway! I finished Decision Points a few weeks ago but only just got around to writing any kind of a review. It’s a pretty light read today (my post, not the book), but I’ll hopefully be getting back in the swing of things.

Full disclosure, I was not a big fan of W as President (I voted for the windsurfer in 2004 – yeah, I know… move along). I found myself being pleasantly surprised by this book.

W spends quite a bit of time reflecting on the decisions he made while also providing many alternative viewpoints. He does an admirable job of explaining his reasoning and in some cases (decisions related to Katrina, especially) admits that he made mistakes in his decision-making. Of course, there is a fair amount of “history will decide” type language – especially as it relates to his legacy overall, and you get the feeling that sometimes he’s a little too willing to pin a poor decision on another staffer (Colin Powell especially… and not just on Iraq/WMDs).

Overall, though, I came away feeling a lot more informed on W’s presidency, and while I didn’t agree with all of his decisions, I certainly respect him for making impossible choices and doing so with conviction. Of course, politics is an incredibly polarizing issue, but even if you found yourself vehemently opposed to W while he was President, I think you’ll find some interesting information in Decision Points. It’s definitely worth a read, especially if you can borrow it from a friend!

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It’s been a rough week for a lot of folks. While Lyd and I were dodging storms with my mom this week (Liss was at a conference in Atlanta), we didn’t really get a grasp of what was happening in Alabama until Liss texted me to see if I’d heard from Ashley (my sister who lives in Tuscaloosa). I quickly got in touch with her and started to get a picture of what happened on Wednesday. She, Scotty and my niece were all fine, thankfully. By now, you know that the same can’t be said for thousands of people who have now had their lives changed forever.

Tuscaloosa has a special place in my heart, of course. Liss and I graduated from the University of Alabama, and we loved every second of our time in T-town. It breaks my heart to see and hear about the devastation. I don’t really have much to say other than I’m praying that God does a mighty work in Tuscaloosa’s recovery. When we see such a tangible example of what living in a (literally) broken world looks like, we recognize the need for a perfect Savior. I don’t know how He’ll deal with all of the broken hearts, lives and homes, but I know it will involve people doing amazing acts of love and kindness for their neighbors, friends and strangers.

If you’d like to help with the disaster recovery, you might consider making a donation to the Red Cross.

Fight on, men.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and I hastily tore into the next book in the series, The Girl Who Played with Fire. I’ll be honest I was a couple hundred pages into the book when I strongly considered putting the book down and giving up on the series as a whole. In Dragon Tattoo, as I said in my review, there are some areas of the book that get dicey as far as language goes. There’s also some sexual activity, but in Dragon Tattoo, the activity is very clearly a part of the overall plot (if you’ve read it already, you  know exactly what I mean).

However, Fire wanders aimlessly through sexual exploits that, even with the benefit of hindsight, are not at all related to the plot. Honestly, I probably should have put the book down at that point, simply because it was in such direct opposition to the way that I approach the world. However, whether rightly or wrongly, I kept reading through the book. I’d like to say that I’m glad I did, but I’m not 100% sure that would be true. I will say this, once the story actually picked up, the plot was riveting.

The mystery in Fire is much stronger and much deeper than the one presented in Dragon Tattoo. Fire sucks several of the main characters personally and emotionally into a story that feels much more organic and relatable than Dragon Tattoo (whose locked-room mystery was great but the protagonists were interlopers in the mystery, not direct participants). Fire also plays with a mystery-within-a-mystery storytelling device that left me feeling like I was stumbling behind Hansel and Gretel (where the heck do all these bread crumbs lead?!?!). Once  you get past Larsson’s sex-capade of the first 100-200, the story is fast-paced, unpredictable and very entertaining.

And yet, I can’t help but wonder why Larsson spent so much of the beginning of Fire seemingly obsessing over details of the sex life of the characters. It’s not as if he simply states that two characters have sex, he describes intimate moments in a level of detail that, as I stated before, walked right over the line of comfortable reading (for me at least). I suppose you can be critical of me for basing my enjoyment of a book on whether it lives up to some ambiguous moral standard I have for authors and the stories they write, but it definitely put a cap on how much I felt like I could like the book. Here’s hoping that the third book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest somehow creates plot points from the promiscuous portions of Fire. I won’t hesitate to simply stop reading the next installment if it wanders through those waters again.

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I just finished reading Bloody Confused by Chuck Culpepper and wish that he’d written another 200 pages. For folks unfamiliar, Culpepper is a sports writer by trade, and after spending years covering the vagaries of American sports, he decided to sojourn in England to follow the world famous English Premier League. The charm of this book comes in Culpepper walking you through his learning experience as he assimilates into the English soccer culture. Culpepper writes to an audience that is somewhat familiar with sports but leaves nothing to chance as it relates to soccer – he humorously explains the game in a manner that leaves the reader with more than enough information to follow his season cheering Portsmouth F.C.

The story of how Culpepper chooses Portsmouth is one that instantly pulls you into the book. Essentially, Culpepper wants to become a fan again, and he visits a few potential clubs before settling on Portsmouth, essentially because he had a grandfather that loved boats (Portsmouth, as you might imagine, is on the coast) and there was a town down the road from his home in Virginia named Portsmouth (he’s obviously a much better story teller than I am).

By the end of the book, you can’t help but find yourself cheering for beloved, scrappy Pompey as they take on the big clubs of the EPL (unless you happen to be a Southampton F.C. fan) and make a run at qualifying for the EUFA Cup.

This book is a great primer for anyone who has ever wanted to follow the EPL with any kind of devotion. It explains some of the intricacies of the league and its teams without weighing down Culpepper’s God-given gift for storytelling. If you are a soccer fan, heck if you’re a sports fan, you should read this book. As if you needed further incentive, I’ll leave you with this – some of the funniest chapters involve a slightly inebriated blue bear, and yes, I’m serious.

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Right, so I hop on my Google Reader this morning and see this little jewel (weak pun totally intended) “Joulies: Metal Beans Keep Your Coffee At Perfect Temp For Three Hours.” I have to admit, I skimmed the first two sentences of the article from Fast Co. Design and jumped straight to the website for the company making these little java miracles. Much to my consternation, when I tweeted about Joulies, I got several tepid (beware, the pun can strike anytime) responses. Stephen Stancil, a doctor I held in good standing until this morning, replied back to essentially ask, who takes that long to drink a cup of coffee? I got basically the same response from another fellow coffeephile. As I sipped my morning cuppa, I felt deflated. Am I the only one who thinks this is an absolutely fantastic idea?

Then I went back to the Fast Co. Design article to get more insight and quickly saw that the guys who created this idea have crowd-sourced the funding of this project through Kickstarter to the tune of $125,000 (note, the article was written on Friday – as of 9:01 PM CDT, they’re less than $200 shy of $140k)! Apparently I’m not the only one who doesn’t have a gullet lined with lead and who takes an entirely-too-long time to drink my coffee in the morning! “How can I get my hands on these beauties?” I asked. I looked through the Kickstarter information and found that 5 of the little metal beans were… $40.

Yikes.

Ok, I’m still stoked about the idea, but I think I’ll wait for the price to come down before I put in my order. When I came back down from my coffee-gadget-induced high, I finally got back around to drinking my coffee. It was cold.

Anyone want to spot me $40?

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About a week and a half ago, I finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (which I actually previewed in my first post on the blog, if you’ll remember). I gotta say, I’m extremely glad that ol’ Stieg put together a trilogy of these stories, because after reading the first installment, I ripped right into the follow-up, The Girl Who Played with Fire.

Fair warning, TGWTDT is not a family friendly reader. It’s certainly not a book you want someone who in any way has an impressionable mind picking up. If gruff language sets you off, you may be better served by reading something else (might I recommend Nicholas Sparks? Oh wait, I would never recommend Nicholas Sparks…). However, if you can live with the language, the book is highly enjoyable. It plays on the locked-room mystery motif to weave story within story. Before long, you have suspected pretty much everyone of an unsolved mystery, and by the end, you’re left wondering how you managed to read 650+ pages within a matter of hours (or in my case, days). Larsson is not content to paint a nice, easy black and white world for the reader to live in. Characters are indistinguishable shades of gray, and everyone has a secret that pushes the story in a new direction.

I won’t give away any of the story here, but I highly recommend you pick up TGWTDT – extremely entertaining and deftly written. It’s definitely a book that will land in my rotation to re-read.

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