Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Tips for Staying Safe, or, Paranoid Much?

Ever since we read Little Brother for our One Book One Zip Code program this year, I've wanted to learn more about maintaining my privacy online. So I picked up J. J. Luna's How to Be Invisible: Protect Your Home, Your Children, Your Assets, and Your Life. I quickly realized that this book wasn't going to help me much in the way of online privacy protection, as it is geared more toward physical invisibility, but it was so extreme, I couldn't stop reading it. Here's what I learned:

1. Don't ever give out your home address to anyone, ever, under any circumstances. No utilities, no magazine or paper subscriptions, letters, packages, etc. Nothing. Ever. Never have mail delivered to your home. No pizza delivery. Don't put your return address on anything. In fact, don't even put your address numbers on your house. If someone is visiting, assuming you've run a background check and they've been given clearance, give them general directions, put out a pink flamingo on the lawn and tell them to look for that. Take down the flamingo after they've left. Get a P.O Box or a commercial box and have all packages and correspondence mailed there. When setting the box up, don't give them your home address either. If you (or someone else) accidentally leaks your home address, move. When moving, preferably rent. Pay the lease in cash, up front. If you must buy, pay in cash. How does one get a cell phone or utility or anything if you don't provide an address? He has tips for this, which include using a fake name, setting up an LLC, or using a "ghost address" which is like using an abandoned building as your address.

2. Aside from never giving out your address, he also advises that you never give out your DOB, SSN, or even your real name, to anyone.

3. If you need a cleaning person for your home or office, hire a Jehovah's Witness. They'll never leak your address to anyone. And they are used to taking trash with them to dispose of in other locations.

4. Don't put anything in the trash outside your home except for food scraps. No paper, no Rx bottles, even condom wrappers. Because someone can use this to figure things out about you. When destroying papers, use a cross-shredder, put the remains in separate garbage bags and dispose of them off site in different locations. Or better yet, burn everything and scatter the ashes somewhere else.

5. Need to go to the doctor or ER? Don't ever provide your true DOB, SSN, address or anything. Pay for all medical services in cash, or go to Canada or Mexico for treatment. If you have to call 911, do so from a cell phone, so they can't track your address.

6. Don't use a cellphone. Get a pager, like it's 1985. Facebook and other social media is out of the question. If you must use email (which you shouldn't), make sure you are encrypting every message you send. No WiFi connections. Make sure the room you are using the computer in has steel plates around it and no windows. Preferably underground. The best method of communication is actually via the US postal service. When sending a letter, use a regular envelope. Do not use a seal or tape, because this draws attention to the envelope. Make sure you have the correct postage. Wrap the contents of the letter in carbon paper. This prevents someone from using freon to make the envelope transparent. Try to mail the letter from a city other than the one in which you live.

7. Have a secret room in your house to store your computer, documents, etc.

And this is just low-level basic security that everyone should employ. If you need even higher security because you are on the run from an abusive ex, loan sharks, mafia, criminals, or the authorities, he has even more extreme tips.

Luna claims that all his suggestions are legal and he never condones any illegal activities or lying to the IRS. But his tips just feel borderline unethical and frankly, creepy. Who would want to live this way, constantly suspicious of everyone? If you needed to hide from an abusive ex or a stalker, I can see how these tips could be useful, but for the average person, most of this is just too extreme and impractical. And it's clear that he has absolutely no idea what it's like to be young and middle class in today's age. Pay for your home in cash? Pay for medical treatment in cash or go outside of the country? Ha! Avoid cell phones, Internet, email, etc.? That's how the world works today.

I consider myself to be a pretty suspicious person. I don't talk to strangers. I don't let strangers into my home. I don't give out personal information to random callers over the phone. I don't give my bank account information to Nigerian princes online. Granted, there are things I should do, like beef up my passwords and be more diligent with shredding my documents, but I think I'll take my chances with the rest.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Start Your Ovens!

Some of you are old hats at preparing a Thanksgiving feast, but I'm still relatively new to the game. This year will be my fourth year preparing Thanksgiving for my family, so I'm still perfecting my game. Sam Sifton's new book Thanksgiving: How to Cook it Well has been getting a bit of press, so I thought I'd check it out.

I was surprised to see what a slim little book it is. At 133 pages, it's practically shorter than the instructions for just cooking the turkey in Cook's Illustrated! On the one hand, I found it to be a little Martha Stewart-ish: "A correctly set Thanksgiving table is of paramount importance to the success of your meal... Thanksgiving is a holiday that calls for a table set as if for a sacrament." Wow. No pressure or anything. On the other hand, he does give me a pass on putting out appetizers and serving a salad. He advises not to fill people up with appetizers and salads. Thanksgiving is a day for rich foods and it's ok to skip the salad. Noted. Striking the salad from my menu. A quick little read with some helpful tips, although I'm sticking with the Cook's Illustrated turkey recipe, as it never fails.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World (and Land)

Travel books are one of the most popular types of books in our non-fiction book collection.  Lots of people like to check out travel books before they go to a new destination so they know what sights to see and good restaurants to try.  Your basic travel book has listings for the sights, hotels, and restaurants.  The Unofficial Guides to Walt Disney World and Land are a little different.  If you are planning a trip with your family to either of the Walt Disney resorts these guide books are a must have.  The Unofficial Guides are designed to help you create a strategy for dealing with the crowds and lines at both locations.  If you use these guides they will save you a huge chunk of time and aggravation and will make your visit to the Magic Kingdom so much more enjoyable.

What the Unofficial Guides do is explain how the parks work at both Disney World and Disney Land and how to best take advantage of the ways things work.  The books explain when the best times to visit are based on how busy the parks are.  They also explain how the lines work for each of the rides and how to best avoid those lines.  They give you a clear and easy to understand method for how to get in the most rides while avoided the long lines.  You'll feel like an "insider" while you rush through the fast pass line at Space Mountain at 2pm with the free fast pass ticket you picked up at 10am.  These books go as far as providing a detailed itinerary explaining what rides you should go to and when.  For instance, go to the Peter Pan ride as soon as the park opens.  Otherwise you'll be in line for at least an hour.

What is nice as well is although they provide a detailed itinerary for what rides to do when it is also fairly flexible.  The book explains the system they use and how to use that system to develop your own itinerary as well.

Each ride is also rated for how fun it is along with how kid friendly it is as well as if you should ride it if you have issues with motion sickness.  All of the other features of the parks including every restaurant and hotel is also rated in terms of quality and price.  There are also insider tips about how to deal with disabled guests, elderly guests, babies & toddlers, large groups, and the special events that happen throughout the year.

These are perhaps some of the most useful travel books on the market.  They provide clear results if you follow their advice.  You'll end up saving literally hours of time each day by not standing in long lines.  These are travel books that will truly enhance and improve your trip.  If you are planning a trip to either Disney Land or World you MUST read these books before your trip.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Meet the Author!

Join us on October 9th at 7pm at the Deerfield High School Auditorium.
Author Cory Doctorow will discuss his novel Little Brother,
the 2012 One Book One Zip Code selection.
Register now!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt

Joe Sacco occupies an interesting niche in the world of graphic novels.  Sacco has created his own unique sub-genre of graphic novel journalism.  In his best works Sacco visits various hot spots in the world just as the average journalist does.  But instead of writing stories about what he sees and who he interviews, he draws comics in a graphic novel form.  His work is unique as his drawings often capture scenes and faces in a way that makes the people that you read about seem more real, perhaps more human, than they would be if you were just reading about them in print.

Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt” is a collaboration between the liberal writer Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco, who provides the illustrations.  It is a fascinating look at current conditions in the United States.  In the past all of Joe Sacco’s works have taken place in far flung places around the world that are desperate in some way.  The West Bank, Yugoslavia during the civil wars there, Iraq, but this book is placed right here at home.  Sacco and Hedges visit four of the most economically depressed places they can find in the USA.  Each spot seems to be a perfect representation of the problems that face different types of people in our country.  The problems of First Tribe Native Americans are shown by visiting and talking to people who live on the reservation at Pine Ridge, South Dakota.  Then we visit Camden, New Jersey, a formally thriving industrial center that is now a wasteland, which seems to represent the plight of African Americans.  Then Hedges and Sacco visit several small towns in West Virginia that have been decimated by hilltop removal mining.  The residents of these towns are all white and many remember the days when the unions were strong.  Finally they visit the town of Imoakalee Florida, a center of migrant workers who work in virtual slavery, to represent the plight of Latinos in this country.

The book shows four distinct areas in the country, and four distinct ethnic groups, and yet they are all linked by the fact that each area has been destroyed by the economic greed of corporations and capitalists.  These are the people where the social safety net has completely failed and they seem to have no hope.  This is a deeply disturbing and grim book.  It’s not light reading.  It also is unapologetic about representing an extremely liberal point of view, especially in Chris Hedges writing.  In many ways it shows how effective Joe Sacco’s own work is.  Chris Hedges is an excellent writer but sometimes his prose seems so one sided that there is little room for any grey areas or debate.  Joe Sacco’s drawings however, let the characters tell their own stories, and it’s up to the reader to interpret them in their own way.  Their two different approaches work well together and seem to strengthen their argument that something is terribly wrong with the economic structures that are in place in the USA.  There have been many reviews written about “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt” that say it’s one of the most important books that has come out about the current state of our country.  If nothing else it is an amazing eye opening look into four cities in the USA that seem to be more like they are from the third world than our own country.  After reading this you might find it hard to believe that these cities and conditions like this even exist in our own country.  But they do.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

When I was a teenager I read a lot of Science Fiction.  I was very much into the "golden era" of SciFi and loved Arthur C. Clarke, Larry Niven, Robert Heinlein, and Isaac Asimov.  The last SciFi book I remembered reading was "Neuromancer" by William Gibson and it was fantastic, but that was twenty years ago.  It recently hit me that perhaps I should give the genre another chance but I wanted to read something current.  I assumed there were new and exciting Science Fiction writers out there but who were they?

I did a little research and discovered that indeed there is a whole new generation of current SciFi authors who are writing fantastic stuff.  Connie Willis, China Mieville, Paolo Bacigalupi, Robert Charles Wilson, and Neil Gaiman are all current authors who are considered some of the top SciFi writers of today.  One name, Cory Doctorow, caught my eye however because I had read some of his technology articles in various magazines.  I had known him from his work with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Creative Commons.  I had no idea he was also known for writing Science Fiction.  "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" got fantastic reviews so I thought I would give it a try.  I was so happy that I did.

"Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" is a great Science Fiction novel.  Like most great SciFi novels his ideas about the future and how technology will be used is amazing, but the story itself is also very interesting and gripping.  What also made it interesting for me is the setting for most of the story, Disney World, and more specifically The Haunted Mansion.  I've been to both Disney World and Disney Land and in both places The Haunted Mansion was perhaps my favorite ride.  It was fascinating to read a book that imagines what Disney World will be like in the future.

What I also found interesting about "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" is this it is a very "current" SciFi book.  This book couldn't have been written 20 or 30 years ago.  It is a book written by someone who is very familiar with the technology of today and imagines where that technology will lead us in another couple of hundred years.  If you are not familiar with current concepts of Web 2.0 and social media you will simply not "get" a lot of the book.  In many ways the book itself is very cutting edge.

Then there is the plot itself.  In many ways this book is a good old fashioned "who done it" murder mystery.  The only difference being that in this world everyone can live forever so the main character spends most of the book trying to figure out who killed him.  If you die in an accidental death a doctor uses a cloned body and dumps your more recently downloaded set of your memories into the new body.  As long as you've been doing your backups in a timely way you'll be OK and come back alive with most of your memories.  But bad luck if you haven't done a backup in say, a year, because then you've lost any memory of what happened in the last year of you life.  (This ends up being a key "clue" in this murder mystery)  So remember to back up your data!  Sound familiar?

I think often people dismiss the Science Fiction genre as being nerdy or geeky or whatever.  But think of how many big budget films are based on Science Fiction novels?  I could easily see "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" being turned into an amazing film.  The story itself is so interesting that I think any number of readers would enjoy the book.  So if you're looking for something a little different and would like to check out one of the great new current Science Fiction writers check out "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom".

PS - Because Cory Doctorow published this book under the Creative Commons license it is available as a free digital download from Project Gutenberg.  You can download the eBook for free here.  Otherwise feel free to come into the Deerfield Public Library and check out our copy of the book.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

John Wayne Gacy

I'll admit it.  I like non-fiction and I like true crime books.  I'd rather read about a real killer than read a mystery.  I started reading, "John Wayne Gacy:  Defending a Monster" by Sam Amirante thinking it would be a true crime book in the vein of "In Cold Blood", but it turned out to be a little different and very interesting indeed.  It was one of those books that I couldn't stop reading and I was constantly thinking about while I was reading it.

"John Wayne Gacy:  Defending a Monster" was written by Sam Amirante who was one of Gacy's defense lawyers during his trial.  The book begins by going into detail about Gacy's final victim and murder and then goes into detail about Gacy's life story.  Then the book tells the story of the police investigation and the eventual trial.  The story of the police investigation was fascinating.  The police had searched his house several times and followed him for months but couldn't find any evidence that he had done anything wrong.  What ended up turning the investigation around was a receipt from a set of pictures to be developed that they found in Gacy's garbage.  From that one receipt the police detectives were able to prove that the last victim had been at Gacy's house.  If they hadn't investigated where the receipt came from he might still be free.

Where the book got interesting for me was during the trial.  Before he was apprehended by the police, John Wayne Gacy confessed his crimes to Sam Amirante in his office late one night.  Sam Amirante knew he was defending a dangerous serial killer.  The book gets into the question that I've often asked myself, "how could anyone defend someone like that in a trial?  Especially if you knew they were guilty?"

Sam Amirante answers this question in a very patriotic american way.  In his opinion the american system of justice is the greatest system developed in the entire world.  Where even a dangerous serial killer can get a fair trial.  He makes it very clear that he had no intention of trying to set Gacy free, or getting him off in some way.  That wasn't his job.  His job was to make sure his client was treated fairly, that the rule of the law was followed, and that Gacy got the sentence he deserved.  This book really did make me rethink the role of the defense lawyer in our justice system.

What was also fascinating to me was how the book ended.  Sam Amirante ended up being a judge and only recently retired.  While he was a judge he fought to change the laws and procedures for how police departments investigate missing children cases.  One of the difficulties facing police during their investigations of Gacy was that police departments had to wait 72 hours before beginning a search for a missing person.  Judge Sam Amirante fought to have this changed in the case of minors.  Ultimately his hard work for this cause ended up creating our current Amber Alert system.  At the end of the book he argues that this was a direct result of being involved in the Gacy case and seeing a flaw in the system.  Police had to have the ability to look for missing children right away.  He ends the book by stating that Gacy's victims didn't die in vain because of this.  Thus, this book about one of the most horrible killers in history, ended with a reflective and positive note.  If you are interested in a true crime story that much more to offer I would highly recommend this book.