Friday, August 22, 2014

Book Review: Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy

 Here is the definitive book on the worldwide movement of hackers, pranksters, and activists that operates under the name Anonymous, by the woman theChronicle of Higher Education calls “the leading interpreter of digital insurgency” and the Huffington Post says “knows all of Anonymous’ deepest, darkest secrets.” Half a dozen years ago, anthropologist Gabriella Coleman set out to study the rise of this global collective just as some of its adherents were turning to political protest and disruption (before Anonymous shot to fame as a key player in the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street). She ended up becoming so closely connected to Anonymous that some Anons claimed her as “their scholar.” Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy brims with detail from inside a mysterious subculture, including chats with imprisoned hacker Jeremy Hammond and the hacker who helped put him away, Hector “Sabu” Monsegur. It’s a beautifully written book, with fascinating insights into the meaning of digital activism and little understood facets of culture in the Internet age, such as the histories of “trolling” and “the lulz.”

Trained as an anthropologist, Gabriella (Biella) Coleman examines the ethics of online collaboration/institutions as well as the role of the law and digital media in sustaining various forms of political activism. Between 2001-2003 she conducted ethnographic research on computer hackers primarily in San Francisco, the Netherlands, as well as those hackers who work on the largest free software project, Debian. 


I became acquainted with the world of conspiracies and injustices much like any other woman does: my husband. When we met, the man talked nonstop about the government and the illuminati. "What if...", "I bet...", "Orwell was right..." and other like lines peppered our conversations. In an effort to understand part of his world, I picked up this book for early review.

My first impression of Anonymous, following the Steubenville Rape Case, was simple: these are people who are just as angry about the world as I am, but with better computer skills.

After reading this book, I know it's a bit more complicated than that. Reading this, it was almost hard to remember that it was nonfiction. It felt more like something out of Agents of Shield--when the main character manages to finally get into the infamous organization and finds the secrets the media lets out are only the tip of the iceburg. There is so much information, in fact, that I struggle to grasp a general summary to review.

The best I can do: It's not what you think. Whatever you think--it's not. Read this book. Or, wait for the movie (as I'm sure there will be one.) In fact, I'd like to advocate for a movie. It would make millions. Even if you're not all that in to conspiracies or government drama or trolling, you will be captivated by this book. At least, you will be if you're interested in people or the internet. If you're not, then I'm not entirely sure we can be friends because people fascinate me.

The one thing I kept thinking was "Man, Coleman is living the reporter's dream." I don't mean journalism majors who want to be on The View or newsanchors who report on small news. I mean the journalists who go into the field, go undercover, and risk everything to uncover truth about the human race, or parts of it. The ones who bring Ms. Frizzle pride by living out her mantra "Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!"

I'm getting off topic. I didn't give myself the normal cooldown time I do when I read a book. My mind is still racing with everything I read. I'm excited about this book and I love that feeling. Buy this book! There's no way you'll regret it. (Dear publishers, make a movie. Please.)

Monday, August 18, 2014

Book Review: The No Panic guide to adopting a teen

No Panic! How to Adopt an Older Child is a practical, hands-on guide, navigating readers through the sometimes complicated process of adopting an older child, from inception of the idea through to a final transformation into a happy, forever family. Covering topics such as how and when to decide to adopt, fundraising, picking agencies, domestic vs. international adoption, parenting your new child, and transitioning into a new family dynamic, No Panic! is an honest, positive, and uplifting account.
Full of usable tips and tricks, resources, and ideas, parents are empowered to follow their hearts on integrating a new family member completely and permanently. Above all, No Panic! is an incredible love story in which one American family and one Ukrainian teenage boy fall in love, changing the course of both of their lives forever.

Bethany M. Gardiner, M.D. is a seasoned homeschooling mother with over a decade of experience in homeschooling her own children and teaching co-op classes for other homeschoolers. A National Merit Scholar that was accepted into the Honors Program at the University of Florida, she graduated in 1990 with a Bachelor's of Science degree in Mathematics and a Bachelor's of Arts degree in Statistics. Following college graduation, she attended medical school at the University of Florida and graduated with Honors in 1994. After completing medical school, Dr. Gardiner did her internship and residency at the University of Florida's Urban Campus in Jacksonville, Florida where she received the Resident Student Teacher Award. Upon completion of her residency, Dr. Gardiner joined Interlachen Pediatrics in Orlando, Florida. She is a board certified pediatrician and an internationally board certified lactation consultant. In addition to her homeschooling activities, Dr. Gardiner is very involved in volunteer work, including serving as a leader of her daughter's girl scout troop for the past seven years and a merit badge counselor for her son's Boy Scout troop. Currently, Dr. Gardiner lives in Utah where she enjoys hiking, whitewater rafting, reading, traveling, and writing. She remains maried to the same man she met as a freshman in college 25 years ago.


I first picked up this book because one of my high school friends is a social worker. She recently went on Facebook asking those who were able to sign up to be foster parents. While I'm not in the financial place for it, I really want to foster and adopt children in the future.

I also really admire this friend of mine and wanted to see if this book would be worth her time or of interest to her.

And I was so, so hoping I could. But let me start off with the good points.

Pros: This book has a good message. It's an important message. Teenagers are not 'too old' or 'too hard' to adopt. They need love just as much as any infant. I can stand behind that.

Cons: Have you ever read something by a person who doesn't write every day? They just don't have a grasp on their literary voice. Reading this brought me back to my high school days, peer editing the paper of a jock who wouldn't write unless his graduation depended on it.

This book has such a great message--it's definitely a message everyone needs to hear. The writing style is just not my cup of tea.

Star rating:
3 of 5

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Book Review: How to be rich

You probably don't feel rich. Rich is the other guy. Rich is having more than you currently have. But you can be rich and not feel it. And that's the problem. Andy Stanley is convinced that most of us are richer than we think. We just aren't very good at it. It's one thing to BE rich. Andy wants us to be GOOD at it!

Andy Stanley is a pastor, communicator, author, and the founder of North Point Ministries (NPM). Since its inception in 1995, North Point Ministries has grown from one church to five in the Atlanta area and has developed a global network of 30 churches.
Each Sunday, more than 36,000 people attend NPM's five Atlanta-area churches: Browns Bridge Community Church, Buckhead Church, Gwinnett Church, North Point Community Church, and Watermarke Church.
Andy's books include How To Be Rich, as well as Deep & Wide, Enemies of the Heart, The Next Generation Leader, and How Good Is Good Enough? Andy and his wife, Sandra, live in Alpharetta, Georgia, and have three grown children.

I picked up this book because my family is in a rough place. We had it good--so good--until we didn't. At the time, my husband and I were both working and pulling in about $1200 a month. We felt rich. My husband lost his job. I picked up extra hours. Our monthly income: $800. We still felt okay. Richer than when we first moved into our apartment.

Then I had my baby and lost my job. Suddenly there was no income coming in. I picked up a nannying job: $400 a month. It covered rent, but we needed more if we were going to eat and keep the Internet.

We swallowed our pride and turned to the state. Now we have enough for a month's worth of food if we eat ramen and hot dogs for the last week, and enough for a can of formula if my daughter hits a growth spurt that my body can't quite keep up with.

I read this book for the same reason anyone in my position would--I want to be rich again. When Stanley said most Americans considered 37K a year to be a pay cut, I laughed. I'd be happy with 24K a year--about $2000 a month to cover necessities and start a savings account for our daughter.

Then I read more. I have a microwave, even if only the left side of it works (don't ask). My husband and I are both healthy if you ignore his broken collarbone. We are fed and we are warm and, while a little uncomfortable, we're happy. I still don't feel rich. But I do feel less poor. But there's more.

I discovered that when we were rich, we were bad at being rich. I knew it at the time, like when my husband bought a TV instead of a crib or an xbox instead of a breast pump set. But even beyond that--we weren't helping anyone. We could have gone down the street and gave money to the food pantry that had helped us out before. We could have taken advantage of the 10 for $10 deals at our grocery and made a whole bunch of sack lunches for the homeless downtown. We didn't. I spent my money on my sister, which is a certain kind of selfishness because I love her. Or I bought video games (to bond with my sister).

I'm kind of new at being Christian--I'm still figuring it out. But this book is honest practically to the point of being revolutionary, and everyone should read it.

star rating: 4.5 of 5

Monday, August 11, 2014

Book Review: The New Indian Slow Cooker Cookbook

Chef Neela Paniz grew up in an elegant Indian home, where her mother's cook prepared wonderful delicacies on a daily basis--the same marvelous regional dishes that she recreates for those lucky enough to dine in her Los Angeles-area Bombay Cafe. Now Neela has compiled a collection of recipes for her best dishes--focusing on the light, the healthy, the fresh, and the easy-to-prepare. Two-color throughout.
The rich and complex flavors of classic Indian dishes like Lamb Biryani, Palak Paneer, and chicken in a creamy tomato-butter sauce can take hours to develop through such techniques as extended braising and low simmering. In The New Indian Slow Cooker, veteran cooking teacher and chef Neela Paniz revolutionizes the long, slow approach to making Indian cuisine by rethinking its traditional recipes for the slow cooker.

She showcases the best regional curries, dals made with lentils and beans, vegetable and rice sides, as well as key accompaniments like chutneys, flatbreads, raita, and fresh Indian cheese. Using this fix-it-and-forget-it approach, you can produce complete and authentic Indian meals that taste like they came from Mumbai, New Delhi, and Bangalore, or your favorite Indian restaurant.

Featuring both classic and innovative recipes such as Pork Vindaloo, Kashmiri Potato Curry, Date and Tamarind Chutney, and Curried Chickpeas, these full-flavor, no-fuss dishes are perfect for busy cooks any day of the week.

My Review:
"No one in India uses a slow cooker."

At least, not yet. This book piqued my interest because, growing up in an Indian home, I thought "Slow cooker? That'd be nice!" Usually my husband and I can only cook Indian on Sundays, when we have the time to devote to it. But to have dinner cooking while we work was something I had to try.

It's not like I've never used a crock pot before. I already know that chicken curry freezes and reheats really well in a slow cooker. But I didn't have any idea how to make it fresh in a slow cooker without it becoming a complete disaster. And that's curry--never mind Dal or Chutney.

I was so pleased to find recipes for childhood favorites like Tikka Masala, which my dad and I actually "cheated" at and bought premade packs to make it. I had previously thought that if my father couldn't make it, it was ridiculously complicated--this is fortunately not the case.

What I admire most about this book is the educational aspect. Along with each recipe is a little piece of history behind its origin, so we get a better idea of how the English and Portuguese influenced Indian cooking.

I was excited to share some recipes with my father, and definitely have some people in mind that I'll recommend this book to.

Star rating: Five of five with a complimentary burp.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Book Review: Admissions essay bootcamp

ASHLEY WELLINGTON, MA, founded college prep company Mint Tutors ( in 2010. With degrees from Princeton University and St. Andrews University in Scotland, Wellington has worked with several premier tutoring agencies. She lives with her husband and daughter in New York City.

Founder of elite college prep agency Mint Tutors, Ashley Wellington shares hard-hitting essay-writing advice tailored to each student's strengths and potential pitfalls, inspiring students to write as if guided by their own personal college admissions tutor. 

My Review:
"College essays do more than just showcase your writing ability; ideally, they illustrate your priorities, admirable traits, creativity, and academic promise."

Besides being a  beautiful example of how to use a semicolon, this sentence serves as the book's thesis statement. In 176 pages, Ashley Wellington shows us how to turn away from the old "grammar + sob story = perfect essay" formula to start writing admissions essays that really show off who we are. She walks you through everything from finding your student type (I'm a dabbler with a dash of secret prodigy) to how to write cliches if you're really set on writing them.

While I'm a bit past the age of admissions essays, this book makes me wish job applications had an essay section--I'm sure now I'd be able to get any job I want. But the reason I picked this up was to see if it was good enough to pass on to my sister, who is nearing that age of college applications.

The good news: I would buy this for her in a heartbeat.
The bad: The only thing that rubbed me the wrong way in this entire book was the second to last sentence: "I hope you found this guide helpful."

First of all: Yes, of course I did. You do this for a living! Don't go doubting yourself by introducing the possibility that anyone could find this book unhelpful. If it was unhelpful, I wouldn't have made it all the way to the end. Second: This is a book, not a blog post. Own that.

Star rating: Last sentence aside, five of five.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Book Review and Author Interview: Genesis, a Graphic Novel by Jason Quinn

The greatest story ever told begins with Genesis. Witness the Biblical creation of the world, the tempting of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and the tragic story of Cain and Abel, before joining Noah and the animals on the voyage of a lifetime. Told in a vivid graphic format,Genesis: From Creation to the Flood, is the perfect introduction to the Old Testament. Experience life in the Garden of Eden and life on board the Arc as Noah, his family, and the animals embark on a voyage that will end in a new beginning for life on Earth.

Jason Quinn is the award winning author of Campfire's Steve Jobs: Genius by Design and Gandhi: My Life is My Message. He learned to read with Marvel Comics and was devastated when his teacher told him Spider-Man did not exist. He has worked in publishing for the last twenty years as an editor and writer, working on everything from Spider-Man to Barbie. He moved to India in 2012 and currently works as Campfire's Creative Content Head.

Naresh Kumar is a resident of New Delhi, India. He describes himself as a seeker who is continuously trying to learn as much as he can. He views his art as an expression of his curiosity about the world. In Genesis: From Creation to the Flood, Naresh has produced a work that reads like a great animated movie, exciting, child-friendly and full of wonder and imagination. His past work for Campfire includes Julius Caesar, They Changed the World: Edison, Tesla & Bell, Frankenstein, and Robinson Crusoe.

My Review:
In the age of turning classic books into graphic novels, it was only a matter of time until someone looked at the Bible to do the same.
That's not a bad thing. The Bible is confusing. Among Christian communities it's prescribed as required reading for children, but who can really keep up?
I remember trying to read the Bible as a kid and getting lost in all the footnotes and bloodlines to really appreciate and think about what the stories were about. Things became clearer with the creation of Veggie Tales, a cartoon series that simplified the Bible and left you with the morals of the stories.

Graphic novels do about the same thing. Things that were a bonus in this book:
-Family Trees
-acknowledgement of other cultures and religions with similar stories
-The fact that the serpent had legs in Eden.

Of course there are other factors that are debated and controversial that weren't included in this novel (perhaps for good reason). The two biggest being Dragons and Giants.

We've established that the serpent has legs in Eden. Every culture has some rendering of Dragons. Who's to say the serpent wasn't a dragon instead of an odd sort of lizard man?

Also, Giants. The children of Fallen Angel and Man. Did they help Noah and his family build the Ark? We may never know.

Star rating: Five of Five. I hope for more in the future.

Author Interview:
What prompted you to create a graphic novel of the Bible?
 I’ve always found the Bible fascinating. They call it the Greatest Story Ever Told for a reason, actually, it’s more like the greatest stories ever told, there are so many cool stories and great characters and some brilliant visuals. I used to have an illustrated bible as a kid with some great pictures in it and really the book was made for the graphic novel medium.

You mentioned similar stories to Noah from other cultures. Do you think this is a coincidence or did they all stem from one story and get lost in a game of telephone?
 Actually, I could have mentioned similar creation stories too and even similar stories to Cain and Abel. The indigenous Australian people have a very similar story to Cain and Abel with two brothers one of whom gets whacked on the head with a stone axe. It’s strange but there are many similarities between stories in the Old Testament and stories in other cultures, which yes, they could well have become distorted through a mammoth game of telephone. Mind you, I’ve always believed that there is a finite number of plotlines and the infinite is the personal stamp we put on the story as story-tellers. So one guy telling the story of a flood in Mexico will tell it quite differently to another guy telling the same story in say India. Culture and surroundings play a big part too because you want your audience to relate.

Do you think the Serpent started out as a dragon?
 It’s more than possible, or maybe dragons started out as serpents. You know how lots of people have an innate fear of snakes, unless it’s a massive horror movie boa constrictor a snake doesn’t look that terrifyingly impressive and so for a big strong hulking brute of a man like say Saint George to be scared of a little adder seems a little bit wussy, so we transform this snake into a great big fire breathing dinosaur who can fly rather than slither around on the ground. That said, if you live in an area where there are lots of venomous snakes you don’t have to dramatise them, they are something that will have injured at least someone that you know and so you’ll be raised with a healthy fear and mistrust of them. I think if the serpent was a dragon, Eve would have been too freaked out to listen to him, but a snake, a serpent, at that time, before all the bad stuff came into the world, she would have found harmless enough to listen to. Having said that, I always enjoy hearing other theories too.

You didn't mention the nephilim at all; is there a reason for that?
 There were several reason behind not including the nephilim. One was that in the bible itself they are only mentioned in passing and I felt to include that passage would simply confuse the reader without really adding anything. If however, we had been doing a book simply on the Flood itself then yes, we could have developed the Nephilim into more significant characters. In Genesis itself you almost get the feeling the writer was about to say more about them but then events took over and they were cast to one side.

While we're on the subject, do you think the nephilim or their offspring ("mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.") might have been helping Noah and his family out?
 It is certainly possible that they either helped or hindered Noah in some way, otherwise, you wonder why they were mentioned here at all. However, with popular opinion divided on the actual identity of the Nephilim themselves, I left them out, possibly filing them away to use in another book at some stage.

I understand I reviewed an ARC, but I couldn't help but notice every character had light skin, when (If they were from the East) at least some should have been darker. Is there a reason for this?
The book is set in and around the Middle East where, skin is fairer than say further East. True most of the people aren’t blonde and blue eyed (although you will get a few) but also they aren’t particularly dark. The general look is fairly Mediterranean, where some people are olive skinned and others a little paler. Bearing in mind that we are dealing with the early years of the human race when people didn’t get around as much as they did later and so skin tones would be pretty uniform as there would not be so many outsiders mixing with the characters.
Finally: Will there be more?
I certainly hope so. Obviously Genesis is a great place to start but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many other great stories in both Old and New Testaments. As a child I always enjoyed the Bible stories and Bible movies, not from a religious point of view but because they are great stories where anything can happen. I also love the stories in the Indian epic the Mahabharata and in the same way I don’t feel these stories are only for Christians or Jewish readers but for anyone who loves a great story, regardless of their religious beliefs. I remember seeing the movie Samson and Delilah as a kid and for me I didn’t equate it with the Bible at the time, it was just a great adventure about this guy who was a bit like Superman but instead of Kryptonite being his weakness it was having a haircut.  The Samson story is great for a graphic novel as is Moses and David and Goliath and well, so many others.