Saturday, November 14, 2015

War, spam, and more war

Today I finished Spam Nation, a journalistic takedown of the spam industry which is centered in Russia. The book is a strange collection of memoir and journalism on criminal relationships so entangled that I felt like I was reading about the securities market. There's a fascinating chapter on who actually buys products that are advertised via spam (mostly medicine that's illegal in Europe or too expensive in the US) and how that market compares to legitimate ones, though most of the book is about two Russian  cybercriminals who dominate the arena, whose infighting over turf exposes their dirty laundry and allows the police and other interests to take them on.  It doesn't read as neatly as @ War, but it does shed light on a murky corner of the internet. Essentially, these men use viral programs to coopt other people's computers to send billions and billions of spam messages,  chiefly marketing black market drugs and porn but also launching  other revenue-boosters like scareware, programs that hijack a computer, announce computer infection and bid the victim to buy their security program to get rid of it. I've been on the receiving side of those when trying to fix relatives' computers: they are not fun at all.  (Some disable any executable, including viral protection.)   The book is interesting, though not entirely impressive;  surely these two don't account for all spam, given how much 'real' advertising is done by email these days.  The title is ambitious.

My library is currently packing up some nonfiction books to send to a newly-created rural sister library,  and a lot of books I've kinda-sorta wanted to read but haven't gotten around to because I figured they would be there when I wanted to are on the list.  Trying to read them before they disappear is why I picked up Miracle at Dunkirk a few weeks ago and got into this World War 2 reading kick.

Earlier in the week I read Operation Compass 1940, a short work (80~  pages) on the early war in northern Africa, in which Italian troops set on seizing Egypt were savaged by a far smaller British force on the counteroffensive. The work was strictly military history, with good maps but a fairly narrow scope, focusing just on this particular battle.  The Italian humiliation here seems have prompted the Germans to take Africa more seriously as a campaign ground, so I'm following it with The Desert Foxes by Paul Carell.  It's a strange work, very sentimental and war-smitten. I looked up the author to see if he'd written anything else, and it turns out he's an honest-to-God-Nazi.  Oops. I'm still trying to find out how bad an apple he was.

The World War 2 reading will continue for the time being, though I intend on mixing other subjects in.  For instance, I have an interlibrary loan book on order about a band of Irish immigrants who fought in the US-Mexican war...for Mexico!  Another book on the way involves....horses.  As far as the 2015 Reading Challenge goes, once I take down A Classic Romance, that will be it. I have the Christmas read already purchased, and it's a quickie. (Tease: it's about Jacob Marley.)  My book with antonyms was That Was Then, This is Now. If I didn't have a mound of books on the Great War, World War 2, and cities, plus four books in the mail, I might be tempted to re-read everything Hinton.  I still may.   My self-control regarding books is on the anemic side. I know the stories, I just want to encounter the writing again.

“Your mother is not crazy. Neither, contrary to popular belief, is your brother. He is merely miscast in a play. He would have made the perfect knight in a different century, or a very good pagan prince in a time of heroes. He was born in the wrong era, on the wrong side of the river, with the ability to do anything and finding nothing he wants to do."

(Rumble Fish, S.E. Hinton)

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