Daemon * Freedom(TM)

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Every once in a while a science fiction book unleashes a vivid, important alternative vision of the future that has not been fleshed out before. Daniel Suarez does that with Daemon, a fasted-paced thriller about a world in which a virtual bot takes over. Sort of a digital Armageddon, only worse. It’s a techno-thriller more informed than a Tom Clancy novel, more plausible than The Matrix, more graphic than War Games, and more thought-provoking than Neuromancer — yet it introduces a science fiction future new to all of them. Here the ghostly bot upends the world by using technological blackmail to take control of more everyday infrastructural systems. Suarez, an information technology and security consultant in real life, makes this scenario entirely plausible even to a technology booster like myself. In fact his scenario is now being seriously considered by the intelligence and security agencies. In a stroke of genius, Suarez shows why this takeover by the bot might be something we choose to allow! The story is not a bit academic or abstract. Instead it is an action-packed made-for-Hollywood script. Warning: the ending is a cliff-hanger, concluded in the second book, Freedom(TM).

-- KK  

Daemon
Daniel Suarez
2009, 640 pages
$10
Available from Amazon

Freedom(TM)
Daniel Suarez
2010, 416 pages
$18
Pre-order available from Amazon

Book website

Sample Excerpts:

Gragg’s script also installed a keylogger, which gave him account and password information to virtually everything the user did from then on, sending it to yet another compromised workstation offshore where Gragg could pick it up at leisure.
What sort of idiot hung the keys to his business out on the street- and more than that, broadcast a declaration from his router telling the world where the keys were? These people shouldn’t be left home alone, much less put in charge of peoples’ investments. Gragg cleaned up the router’s connection log. More than likely the scam wouldn’t be detected for months, and even then, the company probably wouldn’t tell their clients. They’d just close the barn door long after the Trojan horses were gone. So far, Gragg had a cache of nearly two thousand high-net- worth identities to sell on the global market, and the Brazilians and Filipinos were snapping up everything he offered.

*

But Decker was in no hurry. He finally placed his hand on a dis-connected rack server sitting on the nearby counter. “They tell me this computer killed two men earlier today.” The shock took a while to work through Ross. He had expected some sort of child pornography ring, or a credit card scam.
“Killed? How?”
“I was hoping you could help us explain that.”

*

Larson pointed to a network port in the side of the black box, then traced his finger to a smaller circuit board attached to it. “Check this out: it’s a Web server on a chip. It’s got a tiny TCP/IP stack. They’re used for controlling devices like doors and lights from an IP network. I checked. They’ve got them all over the building.” Larson slid his hand along a CAT5 cable extending from the board into the darkness. “This box is linked to their network, and their network is connected to the Internet. It’s conceivable that someone with the right passwords could have activated this switch from anywhere in the world.”
“Could the switch be set to activate when a certain person swiped their access card at the security door?”
“Probably. I just don’t know enough about these cards yet.”
“How long has the switch been here?”
Greer looked at the back of the enclosure. “It was covered in dust when we got to it.”
“So that vestibule door has probably been used thousands of times without incident-then suddenly today it kills someone. .”




1491

The news in this book is that the New World was an old world. It was far more populated, far more developed, far longer before the arrival of Columbus, then orthodox history believes. Charles Mann makes the best case yet, in non-technical prose, for the emerging archeological view that native Americans (north and south) had created vast cities and civilizations on a scale that dwarfed Europe at the time. These bustling cities, not just in MesoAmerica, but in the Mississippi and the Amazon, were erased into invisibility ahead of settlers (and textbooks) by disease and environmental factors. In scope this book is a good compliment to Jared Diamond’s Guns Germs and Steel. But 1491 heightens the discrepancy of development described by Diamond because now we see how far along American civilizations were before they unraveled on contact with the old world.

-- KK  

1491
New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus
Charles Mann
2005, 480 pages
$23

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

When I went to high school, in the 1970s, I was taught that Indians came to the Americas across the Bering Strait about thirteen thousand years ago, that they lived for the most part in small, isolated groups, and that they had so little impact on their environment that even after millennia of habitation the continents remained mostly wilderness. Schools still impart the same ideas today. One way to summarize the views of people like Erickson and Balee would be to say that they regard this picture of Indian life as wrong in almost every aspect. Indians were here far longer than previously thought, these researchers believe, and in much greater numbers. And they were so successful at imposing their will on the landscape that in 1492 Columbus set foot in a hemisphere thoroughly marked by humankind.

*
In 1501, just nine years after Columbus’s first voyage, the Portuguese adventurer Gaspar Corte-Real abducted fifty-odd Indians from Maine. Examining the captives, Corte-Real found to his astonishment that two were wearing items from Venice: a broken sword and two silver rings. As James Axtell has noted, Corte-Real probably was able to kidnap such a large number of people only because the Indians were already so comfortable dealing with Europeans that big groups willingly came aboard his ship.

*
The British and French, many of whom had not taken a bath in their entire lives, were amazed by the Indian interest in personal cleanliness. A Jesuit reported that the “savages” were disgusted by handkerchiefs: “They say, we place what is unclean in a fine white piece of linen, and put it away in our pockets as something very precious, while they throw it upon the ground.” The Micmac in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia scoffed at the notion of European superiority. If Christian civilization was so wonderful, why were its inhabitants all trying to settle somewhere else?

*
It is true that European technology dazzled Native Americans on first encounter. But the relative positions of the two sides were closer than commonly believed. Contemporary research suggests that indigenous peoples in New England were not technologically inferior to the British — or, rather that terms like “superior” and “inferior” do not readily apply to the relationship between Indian and European technology.

Guns are an example. As Chaplin, the Harvard historian, has argued, New England Indians were indeed disconcerted by their first experiences with European guns: the explosion and smoke, the lack of a visible projectile. But the natives soon learned that most of the British were terrible shots, from lack of practice — their guns were little more than noisemakers. Even for a crack shot, a seventeenth-century gun had fewer advantages over a longbow than my be supposed. Colonists in Jamestown taunted the Powhatan in 1607 with a target they believed impervious of an arrow shot. To the colonists’ dismay, an Indian sank an arrow into it a foot deep, “which was strange, being that a Pistoll could not pierce it.”

*
Utterly without fear, De Soto ignored the taunts and occasional volleys of arrows and poled over the river into what is now Eastern Arkansas, a land ‘”thickly set with great towns,” according to the account, “two or three of them to be seen from one.” Each city protected itself with earthen walls, sizable moats, and deadeye archers. In his brazen fashion, De Soto marched right in, demanded food, and marched out.

After De Soto left, no Europeans visited this part of the Mississippi Valley for more than a century. Early in 1682 white people appeared again, this time Frenchmen in canoes. In one seat was Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle. La Salle passed through the area where De Soto had found cities cheek by jowl. It was deserted — the French didn’t see an Indian village for two hundred miles. About fifty settlements existed in this strip of the Mississippi when De Soto showed up, according to Anne Ramenofsky, an archaeologist at the University of New Mexico. By La Salle’s time the number had shrunk to perhaps ten, some probably inhabited by recent immigrants. De Soto “had a privileged glimpse” of an Indian world, Hudson told me. “The window opened and slammed shut. When the French came in and the record opened up again, it was a transformed reality. A civilization crumbled. The question is, how did this happen?”

*
The Caddo had a taste for monumental architecture; public plazas, ceremonial platforms, mausoleums. After De Soto’s army left the Caddo stopped erecting community centers and began digging community cemeteries. Between the visits of De Soto and La Salle, according to Timothy K. Perttula, an archaeological consultant in Austin, Texas, the Caddoan population fell from about 200,000 to about 8,500 — a drop of nearly 96 percent. In the eighteenth century, the tally shrank further, to 1,400. An equivalent loss today would reduce the population of New York City to 56,000, not enough to fill Yankee Stadium. “That’s one reason whites think of Indians as nomadic hunters” Russell, an anthropologist at the University of California at Los Angeles, said to me. “Everything else – -all the heavily populated urbanized societies — was wiped out.”




Secret Museum of Mankind

What a mysterious and fantastical book. This hefty softcover is a facsimile collection of thousands of exotic and sensational photographs dating from around the turn of the century when news of any sort from far away lands was rare. It’s sort of a combination of early uncensored National Geographic and Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Reproduced without a known author, or copyright, or even authentication of the captions, it was for many years a “secret” underground publication. And for pure gawking pleasures it still can’t be beat. Cannibals, executioners, and fakirs, oh my! Toolwise, it serves as a mighty sourcebook of amazing costumes, body modifications and hairdos, architectural novelties, and extinct strange rituals. (I’m convinced science fiction film directors mine this for alien worlds.) I like to think of this book as the best one volume catalog of cultural diversity on Earth. For the most part these societies are long gone, and remain only in rare books like this one. It’s a super bargain at ~$25.

 

Secret Museum of Mankind
David Stiffler
1999, 576 pages
$42 (used)

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

As a young boy from a largely white middle-class neighborhood, I held my breath as I incredulously leafed through the tinted pages of the most fantastic book I had ever opened. The book was in tatters, for it had passed through many hands and a few generations. I believe the book came to me from my grandfather, a lay pastor and naturalist healer. This, my original copy of the book, was somewhat defaced and edited by someone who took offense at the naked body, indicated by the way each illustration depicting an exposed female African, Asian, or Polynesian nipple was scratched out with a penknife. Aside from such human imagery, the book was full of visuals depicting practices and ceremonies rarely witnessed by Westerners and even less commonly understood, hence the appropriate use of the word secret in the title. Here in this book I saw tribal maidens, executioners whose swords had decapitated 20,000 prisoners, medicine men, chiefs, warriors, hula girls, Dutch girls in their tulip hats, rickshaw drivers, fakirs and Moslem women veiled in purdah, “savage” races, cannibals, tattooed faces and cicatrization, holy penitents, gauchos, snake charmers, nomads, gypsies, crude medical practices, strange initiation rites, matadors, Eskimos, and more all laid out as, the anonymous author put it, “five volumes in one.”

It was at this point that I realized my worldview and perspective of life and peoples of the world were extremely limited. Viewing this book really caused me to examine my own surroundings and environment, and I must admit it caused a certain degree of alienation from my peers and challenged my own upbringing and values. I could no longer believe that Greensburg, Pennsylvania, was the whole world when the door to the “secret” world had been opened for me.

*

This detailed face pattern in ridged flesh is known as a “full rasp.” The man could only be photographed asleep; he fled the camera as witchcraft.

*

Camel-Borne Palanquins for Arab Women in the Desert
Arab women of the better class travel in palanquins resembling square tents erected on the humps of camels. Gaudy striped cloth is stretched round the framework of the tent, giving an odd cage-like effect to the contrivance viewed from a little distance. When on the move over the desert, servant women walk beside the camels, and men on horseback guard the caravan.

*

Cage of Death in a Lonely Pass
If one could peek through the bars of this cage there would be seen a little rubbish on the floor of it. That rubbish was once a man caught thieving in the Lataband Pass from Afghanistan into Bokhara. He was placed in this iron cage at the top of the pole and left to die of hunger. These man-cages are a favourite Afghan method of dealing with criminals.

*

Quaint Freaks of Fashion That Please Mongolian Wives
Padded shoulders with chequered sleeves of grotesque length are the salient points of these ladies’ strange dress, which shows how world-wide is the desire for adornment extraordinary. But the crowning effect is produced by the winged headdress through which the hair is threaded, hanging pendent from the extremities. Shoes with pointed toes complete this truly surprising accoutrement.

*

Martial Dignity in Old-Time Splendid Panoply
Decoration ran riot in the headgear of officers of the old Korean army, whose service was indeed rather ornamental than military. This melancholy-looking individual, huddled up with the correct air of aristocratic helplessness on his palanquin, is a general officer. The palanquin is fitted with a single wheel which relieves the bearers of something of the weight of so much dignity.




 

The Universal History of Numbers

Numbers are so elemental that it seems inconceivable we could have lived without them, yet numbers are only an abstract idea that gradually dawned on humans. The evolution of numbers as they inhabited cultures, then faded, and erupted again, diversifying in hundreds of filigreed variations, is really a history of thinking itself. Beginning with numbers–even more than letters–we began living in our heads. Thousands of years later a restless man sets out to answer an almost childlike question: where did numbers come from? In his pursuit–becoming a world expert along the way–he uncovers this exponentially complex, infinitely fascinating, and forever enlightening history. This is the ultimate archive about the culture of numbers. No other source knows as much about numberhood.

-- KK  

The Universal History of Numbers
From Prehistory to the Invention of the Computer
Georges Ifrah
2000, 633 pages
$29 (paperback)

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Most peoples throughout history failed to discover the rule of position, which was discovered in fact only four times in the history of the world. (The rule of position is the principle of a numbering system in which a 9, let’s say, has a different magnitude depending on whether it comes in first, second, third… position in a numerical expression.) The first discovery of this essential tool of mathematics was made in Babylon in the second millennium BCE. It was then rediscovered by Chinese arithmeticians at around the start of the Common Era. In the third to fifth centuries CE, Mayan astronomers reinvented it, and in the fifth century CE it was rediscovered for the last time, in India.

*

Obviously, no civilization outside of these four ever felt the need to invent zero; but as soon as the rule of position became the basis for a numbering system, a zero was needed. All the same, only three of the four (the Babylonians, the Mayans, and the Indians) managed to develop this final abstraction of number; the Chinese only acquired it through Indian influences. However, the Babylonian and Mayan zeros were not conceived of as numbers, and only the Indian zero had roughly the same potential as the one we use nowadays. That is because it is indeed the Indian zero, transmitted to us through the Arabs together with the number-symbols that we call Arabic numerals and which are in reality Indian numerals, with their appearance altered somewhat by time, use and travel.

*

If you wanted to schematise the history of numbering systems, you could say that it fills the space between One and Zero, the two concepts which have become the symbols of modern technological society.

Nowadays we step with careless ease from Zero to One, so confident are we, thanks to computer scientists and our mathematical masters, that the Void always comes before the Unit. We never stop to think for a moment that in terms of time it is a huge step from the invention of the number “one”, the first of all numbers even in the chronological sense, to the invention of the number “zero”, the last major invention in the story of numbers. For in fact the whole history of humanity is spread out backwards between the time when it was realised that the void was “nothing” and the time when the sense of “oneness” first arose, as humans became aware of their individual solitude in the face of life and death, of the specificity of their species as distinct from other living beings, of the singularity of their selves as distinct from others, or of the difference of their sex as distinct from that of their partners.

Origin and evolution of the numeral 3.

Secret alphabet (still used in Turkey, Egypt, and Syria in the nineteenth century) compared with the Arabic, Palmyrenean, and Hebrew alphabets.




 

The Year 1000

A readable chronicle of what ordinary life felt like 1,000 years ago, in England.

-- KK  

The Year 1000: What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium
Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger
1999, 230 pages
$12
Little, Brown

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

It is a commonplace that slavery made up the basis of life in the classical world, but it is sometimes assumed that slavery came to an end with the fall of Rome. In fact, the Germanic tribes who conquered Rome captured, kept, and traded slaves as energetically as the Romans did, as indeed did the Arab conquerors of the Mediterranean. The purpose of war from the fifth to the tenth centuries was as much to capture bodies as it was to capture land, and the tribes of central Germany enjoyed particular success raiding their Slavic neighbors. If you purchased a bondservant in Europe in the centuries leading up to the year 1000, the chances were that he or she was a “Slav”; hence the word “slave.”

*

Slavery still exists today in a few corners of the world, and from the security of our own freedom, we find the concept degrading and inhuman. But in the year 1000 very few people were free in the sense that we understand the word today. Almost everyone was beholden to someone more powerful than themselves, and the men and women who had surrendered themselves into bondage lived in conditions that were little different to those of any other member of the labouring classes.

*

There was no spinach. This did not appear in European gardens until spinach seeds were brought back from the Crusades in the twelfth century. Broccoli, cauliflower, runner beans, and brussels sprouts were all developed in later centuries by subsequent generations of horticulturalists. Nor were there any potatoes or tomatoes. Europe had to wait five centuries for those, until the exploration of the Americas, and though the recipe books describe warm possets and herbal infusions, there were none of the still-to-be-imported stimulants: tea, coffee, or chocolate.




Loompanics

This is a school for outlaws. Most of the time law breakers should be arrested as quickly as possible; very occasionally an outlaw becomes a hero, like in a movie. This catalog of 800 instruction manuals for how to break laws (and all ten commandments) makes no subtle distinction between these modes. That essential chore is up to you.

Use these books with discretion — most of them are pretty lame, and primarily feed the fantasies of 17-year old boys and genuine misanthropes. Some are reprehensible and evil. However, I find value in simply knowing that anti-establishment information (How to Survive Federal Prison Camp, How to Use Fake IDs to Disappear in America, How to Beat Your Parking Ticket) has a home and can be read. Just for curiosity’s sake, of course.

A friend of mine leaves a copy of Loopmanic’s “How to Survice Federal Prison Camp” sitting on the tank of his guest bathroom toilet. Since it is about the prison grind for white-collar felons he says it’s a BIG crowd pleaser.

-- KK  



A Framework for Understanding Poverty

Poverty is not just a condition of not having enough money. It is a realm of particular rules, emotions, and knowledge that override all other ways of building relationships and making a life. This book was written as a guide and exercise book for middle-class teachers, who often don’t connect with their impoverished students–largely because they don’t understand the hidden rules of poverty. In the same way, poor children misconnect with school because they don’t understand the hidden rules of middle-class life. Ruby Payne, a former teacher and principal who has been a member of all three of the economic cultures of our time (poor, middle-class, and wealthy) compassionately and dispassionately describes the hidden rules and knowledge of each. I think it’s useful not just for educators, but for anyone who has to deal with people of different backgrounds. Having read it, I feel a lot more confident about dealing with people as people, not as representatives of their social class.

Every class assumes that their knowledge is known by everyone, which is one reason they assume that people in other classes don’t “get it.” It’s possible for anyone to shift classes, but only at the price of leaving behind your existing personal relationships.

-- Art Kleiner  

A Framework for Understanding Poverty
Ruby K. Payne
2005 (4th edition), 199 pages
$24
Aha! Processing
Highlands, TX 77562
800/424-9484

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

The mother is always at the center, though she may have multiple sexual relations.




Foreign Affairs

The most global of all magazines. This previously rarified academic backwater is now the frontline forum for debating the form of the global village. Bold, brash, and intelligent. There are more Big Ideas per issue than anywhere else.

-- KK  

Foreign Affairs
6 issues per year
$41 per year, US
PO Box 420235
Palm Coast, FL 32142
800/829-5539

Sample Excerpts:

The current American policy is to try to stop proliferation while simultaneously continuing to hold on to its nuclear arsenal indefinitely. But these objectives are contradictory. The current policy is a way of avoiding choice–a policy without traction in the world as it really is. –Jonathan Schell, “The Folly of Arms Control.”

*

Twenty-first-century America is one of the most litigious societies the world has ever known. Civil lawsuits in American courts are used to resolve an ever-expanding list of conflicts. But new forms of litigation can have powerful and wide-ranging consequences, both intended and unforeseen. This is especially obvious in one area long thought outside the power of domestic courts: foreign policy. Increasing numbers of individuals, including torture and terrorism victims, Holocaust survivors, and denizens of the dwindling Amazon rain forest, are now using lawsuits to defend their rights under international law. –Anne-Marie Slaughter and David Bosco, “Plaintiff’s Dimplomacy.”




Ethnologue

The Ethnologue is one of the most satisfying and evocative global snapshots I’ve ever come across. Compiled by the Summer Institute of Linguistics, a global Bible-translation organization, the Ethnologue is an attempt to inventory and describe all extant (and many dying) languages around the world–in two fat, complete volumes. Open up to the “Language Family Index” and you can test your knowledge of the relationships between ethnic groups in your favorite part of the world. How about the various writing systems for Batak Toba, or the total number of languages in Papua New Guinea, or the population of Swahili speakers in the United States? I often find myself roaming through it, wandering imaginatively across the tangled pathways of evolutionary, political, and economic history that these 7,000 languages represent.

-- Jim Mason  

Ethnologue
Barbara F. Grimes
1999 (14th Edition)
Vol I:Languages of the World, 858 pages
Vol II: Maps and Indexes, 727 pages
CD-ROM version, including both volumes
Summer Institute of Linguistics
7500 W. Camp Wisdom Road
Dallas, TX 75236
972/708-7404
NOTE: 16th Edition is available from Amazon.

Available from Amazon

Much of the material is online in a very searchable format here

Sample Excerpts:



Baraka

A cinematic poem celebrating the human relation to the eternal. Not a word is spoken, but every person alive in the twenty-four countries this was filmed in would understand it. It’s about Us on Earth Now. It’s the first truly sacred film I’ve seen (best viewed in DVD on as large a screen as possible). Next time they send a disc into space to be viewed by aliens, this is the disc they should send.

-- KK  

Baraka
Ron Fricke
1992, 104 minutes
$14
MPI Media Group

Available from Amazon

Or via Netflix