DiMortuiSunt April Book Giveaway #3

Technology Books!

Welcome to week three of the book giveaway here at DiMortuiSunt! Congratulations to Nicolas Rycar and Richard Smith for winning! This week I’m giving away three books (are you seeing a pattern?) all of which have something to do with technology. From my reviews at Sacramento and Portland Book Review:

Hacking: The Next Generation

Computer security has never been an easy job. The advent of the internet only complicated things, and now with social media it has become even more so. Hacking: The Next Generation is an in-depth, extensive look at how hackers are using new tools to get their hands on and in other people’s business. This book is not for the casual reader, and it isn’t even for the savvy computer user; IT workers, systems administrators, and computer security professionals are the target audience here. Dhanjani and Company go through the entire inventory of security breaching in this book, with real-world examples and sample code to show just how easy it is for hackers to get a hold of information in today’s world. Phishing, Social Engineering, Using Social websites for Data Mining, Cross-Site Scripting, Abusing SMTP and ARP, Blended Threats, Cloud Computing Vulnerabilities–it is all here with case studies and code. As computing becomes ever more complex and heterogeneous hackers and attackers will have an increasing array of options to use, security professionals need to be aware of these new threats and how the traditional methods (fortress like defenses) are ill equipped or, worse, completely unable to rebuff them. Hackers: The Next Generation is a guide showing where the hacking scene is now, where it is trending and how best to combat it.

The Net Delusion:

The Internet has been sold as a panacea for the world’s ills. Economic equality, totalitarianism, social justices are all problems that the Internet has been proposed to be an answer to. Much like its forebears: telegraph, radio, television, the Internet has failed to deliver on those promises. Despite this the Internet has eagerly been embraced by Washington D.C. as the weapon of choice against totalitarian regimes. Evgeny Morozov addresses these issues in The Net Delusion, a comprehensive look out how the Internet is not as simple a tool as politicians in the West believe it to be, how Authoritarian regimes can, and have, used the Internet to increase their hold on power, and how centering policy on technology blinds policymakers and citizens as to the nature of the issues they must deal with. Morozov’s culprits are cyber-utopianism and its child Internet centrism. The first is the belief that technology is always the answer to any problem and its offspring is the philosophy that the best answers to these problems should be addressed through the World Wide Web. Morozov thoroughly highlights the deficits of these views and reminds readers that “the promotion of democracy is too important an activity to run out of Silicon Valley.”

Cult of the Amateur  – I don’t have a review of this book (anymore.) I must have lost it somewhere along the way. I recall thinking Mr. Keen had an interesting take but was a little too worried about civilization falling apart. We do need professionals and they do need to be compensated for their work. I don’t think blogs or amateur created content  are going to replace them, unless of course the amatuers are doing a better job at a better value. A good read, just one I don’t agree with.

You can win one of these books by leaving a comment below. Next Friday, I’ll pick three winners at random from the comments and mail them a book. If you’ve already entered you can enter again. If you’ve already won you can still enter!

From Idea to Law: Making Legislation in California Part 2

Part two of a multi-part project explaining how laws are made in California.

part 1 of this series can be found here.

 

The Duty of a Senator is to guard the liberty of the Commonwealth
The Duty of a Senator is to guard the liberty of the Commonwealth

Part 2.  The Policy Committee Process

In Part 1 I described how legislators introduce bills into their respective houses and the first few steps of the legislative process.  We left off with bills being assigned by the Rules Committee to a policy committee that.  The policy committee is where the public has an opportunity to address the legislature concerning each bill and legislators have the opportunity to question the bill’s author and those who support or oppose the bill.  Policy committees each cover a specific policy field and are staffed by legislators interested in that field.  The Assembly has 26 policy committees (and two fiscal):  Aging and Long-Term Care; Agriculture; Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism, and Internet Media; Banking and Finance; Business and Professions; Education; Elections and Redistricting; Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials; Governmental Organization; Health; Higher Education; Housing and Community Development; Human Services; Insurance; Jobs, Economic Development, and the Economy; Judiciary; Labor and Employment; Local Government; Natural Resources; Public Employees, Retirement and Social Security; Public Safety; Revenue and Taxation; Transportation; Utilities and Commerce; Veterans Affairs; and, Water, Parks and Wildlife.  The Senate has 19 policy committees (and 2 fiscal as well):  Banking, Finance and Insurance; Business, Professions and Economic Development; Education; Elections, Reapportionment and Constitutional Amendments; Energy, Utilities and Communications; Environmental Quality; Food and Agriculture; Governmental Organization; Health; Human Services; Judiciary; Labor and Industrial Relations; Local Government; Natural Resources and Water; Public Employment and Retirement; Public Safety; Revenue and Taxation; Transportation and Housing; and, Veterans Affairs.

Once a bill has been assigned to a policy committee it is put on the committees agenda (State law requires that 4 days notice be given for bill hearings) and the committee accepts letters from the public and private sectors regarding it.  At a committee hearing the author presents their bill and then those who are in support of the bill are allowed to make a presentation, and the public is allowed to comment.  Questions can and are often asked by committee members to the author and supporters of the bill,  debate often ensues.   After the supporters have finished presenting those who oppose the bill, if any, are given time to address the committee with their concerns, and proposals to remove their opposition to the bill.  After arguments for and against the bill have been heard the author gives a closing statement to the committee.  During the presentation of the bill amendments to the bill can be offered by committee members to the author, who can either reject or accept them, though bills can, and are, amended without the consent of the author.  Once discussion of the bill has ceased the Committee will vote on the bill.  If the bill receives a majority vote to pass it on, then it continues through the legislative process, if it fails passage the bill is dead.  Authors are generally granted reconsideration after a bill fails passage in committee, giving them time to talk to committee members and convince them to vote the bill out of committee.  Once a bill fails on reconsideration it is dead.

After a bill leaves a policy committee on a vote a number of things can happen.  If the bill has costs associated with it (over $250,000) it must go to the Appropriations committee before being heard on the floor (I’ll talk about this fiscal committee in a future post).  If the bill covers more than one policy area (say a bill about about college funding for Veterans that would be heard by both the Higher Education and the Veteran Affairs committees) it will go to the second committee it was referred to.  If the bill is going to be amended, it has to go to the Assembly desk to be amended, read a 2nd time, and then it goes to 3rd reading or referred back to committee.

If you remember from the first post every bill has to be read three times before moving out of its house of origin.  Next time I’ll explain 2nd and 3rd reading and talk about the two fiscal committees.

Internet Fear and the Loss of Authority

My first foray into the intellectual world of criticism

Nicholas Carr, who from all appearances seems to be a very smart man has written an article for the Atlantic monthly. In his Article Mr. Carr discusses his fears that his use of the internet, google, etc… are changing how he thinks, altering his very brain chemistry… I think his fears are irrational and I’ll explain why below but for now, follow the link and read Mr. Carr’s essay and then come back.

Interesting, no? Mr. Carr raises several issues, marshals evidence to support it, and ties it all together with a nice reference to one of science fiction’s and hollywood’s most iconic films. In other words a very well written essay. I do have some issues with it though and here is why:

First off I’m wondering how much of Carr’s research was done using Google, Wikipedia, and the system he maligns through out his article? Ad hominen attacks are never appropriate but Carr’s continued use of the internet accurately portrays just how much of a threat he feels it is to his brain structure. I didn’t see anywhere in his essay where he decides that using the internet is too dangerous to use, nor does he call for his readers to change how they interact with the internet so as to curb its malicious influence on thought patterns, nor do any of the people he mentions in the article. Everyone seems to feel that the internet is changing them but none of them seems to be doing anything about it. If the threat was there, it would be easy enough to shut the computer down and pick up a magazine or book, or go to the library and immerse yourself in the stacks doing research. In fact that is the solution to the problem Carr poses on his article. If the internet has changed how you think by using it in the past ten years, then it stands to reason not using the internet as a resource will help it revert back. He touts throughout the elasticity of the brain to do just this and I quote, “The human brain is almost infinitely malleable…As people’s minds become attuned… Far-reaching effects on cognition…” This elasticity is then Carr’s salvation, stop using the internet and your mind will re-shape itself to whatever form you’d prefer it to.

Second, Carr mentions no hard evidence that the Internet is changing how he thinks. He quotes his own experiences and those of friends and associates. Anecdotes are all well but they can’t prove (or disprove) anything. Carr himself acknowledges this, but then immediately introduces additional anecdotes (Nietzsche) and unrelated studies, in the hopes that his reader will blindly accept their relevancy. He touts a British study that reports people’s browsing histories on-line, making sure to point out how people jump from place to place and rarely read entire articles or sections. This is a fascinating study of how people browse certain sites, but it doesn’t tell us anything about how they read books, or think in general. Carr then quotes a psychologist who worries that our on-line habits might be spilling over into the real world and effecting how we think, sadly he doesn’t quote any studies that substantiate that claim. Carr fails to mention if anyone has even begun to study this field at all. His anecdotes might play on my emotions but I see no need to worry until hard evidence is brought to my attention. Worse, he doesn’t bring forth any evidence to support his claim that the old way of reading books, newspapers, articles, etc… is in any way different from, and superior to how we read the internet. He talks of “deep” reading and the contemplation that immersion in a book creates but never proves that such deepness exists, it is merely assumed.

Thirdly I feel Carr’s argument is just a small part of a greater battle “raging” in academia and the halls of power right now. This is the age old battle of the old against the new, the haves against the have-nots, and power elites versus self educated amateur. The real fear here is not that the internet is changing how we think; it is that the internet is eroding traditional authority. Carr’s fails to directly address this issue, he in fact seems conflicted. He recognizes that through-out history as new ideas, technologies (writing, printing) are introduced they’ve had their critics, that these critics have largely been right but things still turned out okay, even better. I don’t know what Carr is trying to say here except that, he doesn’t quite know what it is he is arguing against (or for), and that I should be skeptical of his claims. Carr as a member of that traditional authority but part of it’s liberal wing wants to seem like he is okay with the changes occurring around him (the egalitarianization of society/academia/culture/etc. by the internet), but at the same time wanting to retain the aura of authority his position in the older hierarchy gives him.

In the end it seems that Carr raises an issue that bothers him only slightly. He worries that he and we, as a collective, might be losing something with the coming of the supremacy of the internet. He doesn’t seem to care enough to do anything about it though, even when the answer is as simple as turning the computer off and picking up a book.

I’ve sent the above comments to the author himself and other intellectuals who cover this field. I will also be forwarding them on to the Editors at the Atlantic as well, if I’m lucky they’ll find my comments insightful enough to print them, which wouldn’t hurt my career in anyway. I encourage you to read Mr. Carr’s piece and my reaction to it and then leave your comments below.