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Original author: 
Cory Doctorow


I reviewed Ronald Diebert's new book Black Code in this weekend's edition of the Globe and Mail. Diebert runs the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto and has been instrumental in several high-profile reports that outed government spying (like Chinese hackers who compromised the Dalai Lama's computer and turned it into a covert CCTV) and massive criminal hacks (like the Koobface extortion racket). His book is an amazing account of how cops, spies and crooks all treat the Internet as the same kind of thing: a tool for getting information out of people without their knowledge or consent, and how they end up in a kind of emergent conspiracy to erode the net's security to further their own ends. It's an absolutely brilliant and important book:

Ronald Deibert’s new book, Black Code, is a gripping and absolutely terrifying blow-by-blow account of the way that companies, governments, cops and crooks have entered into an accidental conspiracy to poison our collective digital water supply in ways small and large, treating the Internet as a way to make a quick and dirty buck or as a snoopy spy’s best friend. The book is so thoroughly disheartening for its first 14 chapters that I found myself growing impatient with it, worrying that it was a mere counsel of despair.

But the final chapter of Black Code is an incandescent call to arms demanding that states and their agents cease their depraved indifference to the unintended consequences of their online war games and join with civil society groups that work to make the networked society into a freer, better place than the world it has overwritten.

Deibert is the founder and director of The Citizen Lab, a unique institution at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. It is one part X-Files hacker clubhouse, one part computer science lab and one part international relations observatory. The Citizen Lab’s researchers have scored a string of international coups: Uncovering GhostNet, the group of Chinese hackers taking over sensitive diplomatic computers around the world and eavesdropping on the private lives of governments; cracking Koobface, a group of Russian petty crooks who extorted millions from random people on the Internet, a few hundred dollars at a time; exposing another Chinese attack directed at the Tibetan government in exile and the Dalai Lama. Each of these exploits is beautifully recounted in Black Code and used to frame a larger, vivid narrative of a network that is global, vital and terribly fragile.

Yes, fragile. The value of the Internet to us as a species is incalculable, but there are plenty of parties for whom the Internet’s value increases when it is selectively broken.

How to make cyberspace safe for human habitation

Black Code: Inside the Battle for Cyberspace     

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Original author: 
Cory Doctorow


Moustetronaut is a lovely picture book by Mark Kelly, a former Space Shuttle pilot and husband of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. It tells the story of Meteor, an experimental NASA mouse who saves a shuttle mission by scurrying into a tight control-panel seam and retrieving a critical lost key. The story is very (very) loosely based on a true story -- there was a Meteor, but he never left his cage, but he did indeed display delight and aplomb in a microgravity environment. The whole rescue thing is a fiction, albeit an adorable one.


What really makes this book isn't its basis in "truth," but rather the amazing illustrations by CF Payne, who walks a very fine line between cute and grotesque, with just enough realism to capture the excitement of space and just enough caricature to make every spread instantly engaging. There's also a very admirable economy of words in the book itself (which neatly balances a multi-page afterword about the space program, with a good bibliography of kid-appropriate space websites and books for further reading). It's just the right blend of beautifully realized characters -- Meteor is particularly great -- and majestic illustrations of space and space vehicles.

Moustetronaut

    

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Original author: 
Kyle Orland

(video link)

It's easy to write about games that can be compared to other games. "It's like Call of Duty, but in space," or "It's like Gran Turismo, but all the cars feel like they're made of styrofoam" or "It's like the tabletop game Labyrinth, but you're controlling a monkey in a plastic ball." The games that are the most fun to write about, though, are the ones where you struggle to come up with any suitable comparisons.

Sure, you can draw some links between Antichamber and games like Portal. Both games involve wandering through a sterile laboratory and trying to find your way out. Both involve using a gun that doesn't shoot bullets, but does help you find an exit indirectly. And both take place from a first-person perspective. But Antichamber's similarities to Portal—and to most other games—end there.

Understanding Antichamber means forgetting your understanding of pretty much everything you know about how the physical world works. First to go is the idea of object permanence that you developed as a baby. Turn around in Antichamber, and the hallway that was there a second ago can easily be a totally different room. Then the game starts to mess with your ideas of depth perception—you can fall for miles, only to end up just a few feet below where you started.

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Somebody tried to kill Elle Peterssen. She's comatose in the hospital. Her wealthy family doesn't seem to care much -- not her Korean tiger mom, not her emotionally vacant father, not her spoiled brother. They consider her hospitalization a major inconvenience. Elle's boyfriend, Dane, cares a lot but he's the prime suspect.

Elle, unconscious in a hospital bed, is somewhat aware of what's happening. Her disembodied, amnesiac mind inhabits a kind of spirit world with other coma patients. With the aid of a psychologist (also in a coma and in a hospital bed right next to her) and a British coma patient, Elle attempts to figure out who she is and how she ended up this way.

Meanwhile back on Earth, clues of a complicated plot concerning Elle reveal themselves in odd places -- in a hospital staff doctor who purges Elle's records, in hoodie-wearing nogoodniks skulking in doorways and whispering urgently in their cellphones about contingency plans, in office explosions, and in double-crosses.

Mind the Gap: Intimate Strangers collects the first five issues of Jim McCain (writer) and Rodin Esquejo's (artist) Hitchcock-esque comic book series of the same name. The art is superb and the story is a masterfully-paced, intriguing thriller.

Warning: this is an ongoing series so when you get to the end of this graphic novel, you'll want to find out what happens next. Fortunately Mind the Gap #6 is out. I'm going to wait for Volume 2 of the anthology series, myself.

Mind the Gap: Intimate Strangers

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Happy New Year! Warren Ellis's second novel, Gun Machine, ships today, and it's the kind of grim, mean hard-boiled fiction that is just the right tonic for your hangover from 2012: the booze, the Mayan apocalypse, the austerity, the misery and revolutions betrayed and horror and bile and pain --

But I digress.

As with his first novel, 2007's Crooked Little Vein, Ellis manages to transition the kind of grotesque madcap action that makes his graphic novels so memorable and enjoyable into prose. This isn't a novelisation of Transmetropolitan by any means, but it enjoys a similar kind of density, largely thanks to interludes in which Ellis enumerates all the awful crimes announced on a police-radio that his protagonist, a NYC detective named Tallow, is addicted to.

Gun Machine is a hard-boiled cop story that opens with Tallow and his doomed partner confronting a deranged nude man with a shotgun who spatters the partner's brains all over Tallow before Tallow blows him away. But losing a partner is just the start of Tallow's problems. By chapter two, he's checked out the seemingly empty apartment next-door to the killer's, and discovered an enormous cache of mouldering guns, arranged in a kind of patterned tapestry on the walls. What's more, each of these guns is from a seemingly related, unsolved murder on the streets on New York, stretching back decades.

Tallow has just discovered the trophy room of the most prolific, most successful serial killer in New York City history. And now his troubles have started. Because while Tallow should technically be sent off for mandatory leave while he gets over the death of his partner and his own killing of the deranged slayer, he is instead sent to the bowels of One Police Plaza, charged with solving hundreds of crimes, some of them decades old. The only help he has in this is a pair of misfit CSU investigators, and in their way stands some of the richest and most powerful people in New York -- some of whom seem to have benefited from the killer's convenient removal of their rivals at key junctures in their stellar careers.

As if that wasn't enough, Tallow is also being hunted, by -- who else? -- the serial killer whose trophies he has just discovered and seized. The most remorseless killer in New York's history is after him with a literal vengeance, and now his problems are really kicking off.

Gun Machine is a novel that never stops to draw breath. It's a monster of a book, bowel-looseningly scary in places, darkly uproarious in others, and remorseless as the killer who hunts in its pages. Ellis never disappoints, but this is particularly good, even by the high standards of a Warren Ellis tale.

Gun Machine

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Biella Coleman is a geek anthropologist, in both senses of the epithet: an anthropologist who studies geeks, and a geek who is an anthropologist. Though she's best known today for her excellent and insightful work on the mechanism and structure underpinning Anonymous and /b/, Coleman is also an expert on the organization, structure, philosophy and struggles of the free software/open source movements. I met Biella while she was doing fieldwork as an intern at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She's also had deep experience with the Debian project and many other hacker/FLOSS subcultures.

Coleman's has published her dissertation, edited and streamlined, under the title of Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking, which comes out today from Princeton University Press (Quinn Norton, also well known for her Wired reporting on Anonymous and Occupy, had a hand in the editing). Coding Freedom walks the fine line between popular accessibility and scholarly rigor, and does a very good job of expressing complex ideas without (too much) academic jargon.

Coding Freedom is insightful and fascinating, a superbly observed picture of the motives, divisions and history of the free software and software freedom world. As someone embedded in both those worlds, I found myself surprised by connections I'd never made on my own, but which seemed perfectly right and obvious in hindsight. Coleman's work pulls together a million IRC conversations and mailing list threads and wikiwars and gets to their foundations, the deep discussion evolving through the world of free/open source software.

Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking

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After months of anticipation, Windows 8 is here. It launches today and goes on sale globally tomorrow. For the last year and a half, we've tracked its progress across three betas and the final release, exploring the ins and outs of Microsoft's most ambitious product launch in two decades.

Over the next few days we'll be publishing a barrage of Windows 8 coverage. Today we'll have the main review, which concentrates on Windows 8's radical new user interface and asks if Microsoft has at last managed to realize its dream of a true tablet PC. We're covering the installation and upgrade experience in a separate feature. On tap is a screenshot tour that shows off Redmond's shiny new look and feel, and we'll also look at benchmarks to make sure the OS still runs as well as it should.

In the coming days, we'll be peeking under the hood in an investigation into the work Microsoft has done to make Windows 8 more secure, more efficient, and more flexible. We'll couple that with an extended look at Storage Spaces, the software giant's solution for managing all your disk space needs. We'll also be looking at the all-new Xbox-branded multimedia experience.

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2K Games / Firaxis

The Skyranger lunged at the subway platform in Delhi, India. Thrusters vectoring down on their gimbals, the big tires taking the impact on thick shocks. The fireteam burst from the landing ramp into the dark and the rain, with Assaulter Edwin “Geronimo” Garcia up front. They saw blood, a fine mist of it along the stairs, a small pool on the landing. The way it reflected the light, you could tell it was fresh. A paper bag blew along the ground as my men slowly tucked into hard cover behind the railway signage. I strained to hear our quarry in the night.

We were not alone. A tall, thin man with round glasses stepped from the shadows across the track. And then came his twin—and his triplicate. Another pair of clones beside a commuter bench were illuminated by a flash of lightning. And then our world was lit green by plasma fire coming from all directions. Kim “Steady” Check, our heavy gunner, set one of the clones inside her holographic sights. The rest of the team had a solid target now and let loose volleys of their own. Metal wilted around my team, chips of concrete flew, but they kept firing into the night. 

Consider the audacity of Firaxis Games’ Jake Solomon. It’s all fine and good to praise X-Com: Enemy Unknown as one of the finest PC games ever made. But to remake it? Many have tried to modernize the game and failed, including series originator Julian Gallop himself. Perhaps the most successful games to follow in X-Com’s turn-based tactical footsteps were Valkyria Chronicles and Frozen Synapse, but they never dared to tie combat to base building and a tech tree. Solomon’s team went for it, and just to make it harder on themselves, they tacked on the added goal of broadening the game’s audience to include console gamers.

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I'd like this guy to decorate my house.

It’s been out a while, but you know what? It takes a while to play! PixelJunk Eden, the four year old PSN platformer, has mysteriously appeared on PC. What did I think of its ambient amblings? Just bouncybounce your way below and I’ll jolly well tell you Wot I Think.

(more…)

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As musical old-timers repeatedly sing the sad song of the supposed demise of the full-length album, a funny thing has happened. Lovers of games have taken up a growing passion for game music, and in particular the indie score for indie games. Independent game publishing and independent music composition – from truly unsigned, unknown artists – go hand in hand. Indeed, the download and purchase charts on Bandcamp are often dominated by game scores. Fueled by word-of-mouth, these go viral in enthusiast communities largely ignored by either music or game reportage.

Far from the big-budget blockbuster war game, these scores – like the games for which they’re composed – are quirky and eccentric. They reject the usual expectations of what game music might be, sometimes tending to the cinematic, sometimes to the retro, sometimes unapologetically embracing magical, sentimental, childlike worlds.

And now, defying music’s typical business models as well as its genre expectations, you can get a whole big bundle of games for almost no money. Pay what you want, and get hours of music. Pay more than $10, and get loads more. You just have to do it before the deal ends (five days from this posting), at which point the bundle is gone forever. In a sign of just how much love listeners of these records feel, there’s a competition to get into the top 20, top 10, and top-paying spots, which with days left in the contest is already pushing well into the hundreds of dollars. But for that rate or just the few-dollar rate, these are the true fans. You’ve heard about them in theory in trendy music business blogs and conferences, in theory. But here, someone’s doing something about it, and it’s not a fluke or a one-time novelty: it’s a real formula.

http://www.gamemusicbundle.com/

Game music itself is, of course, a funny thing. Game play itself tends to repetition, meaning you hear this music a lot. So it says something really extraordinary about the affection for these scores that gamers want to hear the music again and again. This gets the musical content well beyond the level of annoying wallpaper into something that, even more than a film score you hear just once or a few times, you want to make part of your life. That endless play gets us back to what inspired ownership in the first place, to buying stacks of records rather than just waiting for them on the radio. And in that sense, perhaps what motivates owning music versus treating it like a utility or water faucet hasn’t changed in the digital age at all. Maybe it’s gotten even stronger.

We’ve already sung the praises of Sword and Sworcery on this site; it’s notably in the bundle. But I want to highlight in particular one other score, the inventive and dream-like Machinarium. Impeccably recorded, boldly original, the work of Prague-based Tomáš Dvořák, Machinarium mirrors the whimsical constructed machines of the games. There’s a careful attention to timbre, and music that moves from film-like moments to song to beautiful washes of ambience, glitch set against warm rushes of landscape. For his part, Dvořák is a clarinetist, and his musical senstitivity never ceases to translate into the score. It’s just good music, even if you never play the game, and easily worth the price of admission for the bundle if you never listened to anything else (though you would truly be missing out). It’s simply one of the best game music scores in recent years.

And another look at Jim Guthrie’s score to Sword & Sworcery:

Game Meets Album: Behind the Music and Design of the iPad Indie Blockbuster Swords & Sworcery[Create Digital Music]

Game Meets Album: Behind the Music and Design of the iPad Indie Blockbuster Swords & Sworcery [Create Digital Motion]

Also in this collection: Aquaria, To the Moon, Jamestown, and a mash-up, plus a whole bunch of bonus games when you spend a bit more that feel heavily influenced by Japanese game music and chip music.

And some of the best gems are in the repeat of the last bundle, which you can (and should) add on for US$5 more:
Minecraft: Volume Alpha, Super Meat Boy: Digital Soundtrack, PPPPPP (soundtrack to VVVVVV), Impostor Nostalgia, Cobalt, Ravenmark: Scourge of Estellion, A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda, Return All Robots!, Mighty Milky, Way / Mighty Flip Champs, Tree of Knowledge

I’ve sat at game conferences as composers working for so-called AAA titles lamented the limitations of the game music production pipeline. Quietly, indie game developers have shown that anything is possible, that the quality of a game score is limited only by a composer’s imagination.

More music to hear (and some behind-the-scenes footage), including a really promising Kickstarter-funded iPad music project from regular CDM reader Wiley Wiggins:

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