Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Rowing to Latitude: Journeys Along the Arctic's Edge by Jill Fredston

The author and her husband have rowed something like 20,000 miles of coastline way the heck up in Alaska, northern Canada, Greenland, Norway, and Svalbard (yeah, I didn’t know where it was, either; it’s north of Scandinavia. Honestly, I didn’t know there was anything north of Scandinavia, except for the North Pole.) This book is fun to read—while it seems that she was groomed from a young age to do this kind of thing, it’s still pretty amazing, and she has great stories about run-ins with bears and whales.

My complaints: she says that the earth would be better off without people, which is a ridiculous statement in my opinion. She’s pretty critical of native people who leave trash around and doesn’t like the southern part of Norway, which has oil refineries next to nature preserves, but she doesn’t seem to consider how much damage she herself might be doing to the planet by flying all over it in jet planes and shipping a huge rowboat everywhere she goes, not to mention the materials required for the construction of that boat and her fancy outdoor gear. Staying put in Labrador and leaving trash around probably defiles our planet less than her traveling and other consumption, and Norway is apparently willing to live with the reality of their consumption, rather than hiding it away somewhere undesirable and unseen like the rest of us. But I’ve already gotten riled up enough about that. I really did enjoy the book.

Death in Gaza (2004)

Now this, in contrast to almost everything else I’ve seen lately, is an important film. The filmmaker intended to do two films—one about the Israeli/Palestine conflict from the point of view of Palestinian children (this film) and one from the point of view of Israeli children. I wish he could have made that second film, but he was shot by Israeli soldiers just as he was finishing the filming for this movie. His death is not kept a secret in the film—you know from the very beginning that it ends with his death—but that’s not the only reason I was nervous about watching it. I’m not very brave about watching violent stuff. But it was fascinating, though disturbing, and not as violent as I had imagined it would be.

The filmmaker and those who edited and finished the film later tried pretty hard to be unbiased. What you get seems to be, as close as it can be, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as Palestinian kids see it—many of them have lost relatives to Israeli soldier fire; all Palestinians killed are made into martyrs, the body carried through the streets and kissed by everyone while a man yells stuff through a loudspeaker; kids are recruited as scouts for militant groups (and if they happen to be killed, there’s thousands more to replace them); all Israelis are Jewish pigs; they spend their spare time throwing rocks at Israeli tanks, because they’re everywhere. I can't quite imagine what it would be like to grow up with tanks driving through the streets. It’s particularly interesting that the Palestinian kids think that all the soldiers are Jews, since the Israeli soldiers who killed the filmmaker were most likely Bedouin Arabs. But it’s what they’re taught by parents and teachers and everyone else.

I don’t know that the movie gives any hope for reconciliation between Israel and Palestine, but it’s a way to better understand one side. Definitely worth watching.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Other Unimportant Movies I Watched Recently

Superman Returns (2006)

Not bad, especially for a sequel of sorts. Kind of long. The kids thought they were pretty lucky when we deemed this PG-13 movie appropriate for their viewing. Kevin Spacey was a pretty good Lex Luthor.

You, Me and Dupree (2006)

Pretty funny at times, though also vulgar. A positive message about marriage. I like the Wilson brothers. Luke is my favorite, but Owen can be pretty funny.

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004) (TV edit)

Silly but enjoyable. I really like Hugh Grant in the bad boy roles, and he was hot in this one. Colin Firth is also nice to look at. If only I liked Bridget better. The movie was very different from the book.

The Triplets of Belleville (2003)

This was supposed to be great, but I thought it was boring and not very cohesive, I guess. The animation looked intriguing and quite wonderful sometimes, and there were some mildly interesting and amusing moments (like the aged triplets’ diet of frogs—frog sandwiches, frog soup, frogsicles, etc.), but in general, I just didn’t care that much. Maybe I didn’t get it.

Never Been Kissed (1999)

Some very funny characters, like Drew Barrymore’s male secretary and her friend played by Molly Shannon, make this more interesting than your average romantic comedy. Jon was still not thrilled to have to watch this a second time. But I think it’s cute.

The Holiday (2006)

I enjoyed this, but after I finished watching it, I realized that Cameron Diaz and Jude Law were supposed to be the sexy, happenin’ couple, while Kate Winslet and Jack Black were the slightly overweight, awkward couple, and that bothered me. I admit that my only evidence that they were supposed to be slightly overweight was a cute comment that they said to each other at two different windy parts of the movie: “Don’t blow away,” and the little black dress Kate wore later in the movie, in which one of her arms briefly looked slightly fat (by Hollywood standards). In any case, there is the overall impression that they are supposed to be kind of geeky and desperate or something, certainly not hip or cool, like the other two. And excuse me, but while Kate Winslet is a great actress, she just didn’t pull off the desperate, not-so-attractive person they were maybe going for.

Yes, it’s possible that my over-critical brain is seeing something that isn’t there to see. But here’s more evidence:

Cameron (I know her character had a name, but apparently it was forgettable, because I have forgotten it, and all other names from the movie) is rich, has a huge, beautiful L.A. house, works a glamorous job and has just dramatically dumped her cheating boyfriend. She’s skinny and gorgeous (some think) and tough. When she meets Jude, who is also beautiful, there is instant drunken attraction, followed very quickly by drunken kissing and drunken sex. There’s lots more kissing and sex between them throughout the movie. They are sexy and glamorous.

On the other hand, in the very first scene, Kate is pining for an obvious jerk, who cheated on her and is now getting married but still playing her for the thrill of having a hanger-on. She looks slightly dowdy, works during an office party, lives in a cozy, cluttered cottage and drinks tea. There may have been cats. Jack Black is ... well ... Jack Black. We have the impression that his beautiful girlfriend does not properly return his affection. He’s goofy, funny, short. You know, Jack Black. Between Kate and Jack, there are mostly conversations, maybe a slightly romantic peck on the cheek at the end. (Or did they really kiss? I can’t remember.) Anyway, they’re not super sexy, but I liked their characters so much better than Cameron and Jude.

Or maybe they’re just supposed to be different couples, and I am reading way too much into this. Anyone?

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Beyond Fear by Bruce Schneier

The full title of this book is Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World, and the book delivers on the promise of that title. I started it a couple of months ago, and enjoyed taking my time reading just a few chapters at each sitting.

Bruce Schneier is a well-known cryptographer -- he was a major participant in the AES cipher contest a few years back -- but this is a nontechnical book. He does an excellent job of demonstrating that security is all about tradeoffs: cost vs. benefit in terms of money, attention, convenience, freedom, etc. There's no perfect security, and all security decisions need to be re-evaluated from time to time. Based on what? Bruce outlines a five-step process to evalute security decisions:

  1. What are you trying to protect? ... "So much of the bad security surrounding us is a result of not understanding exactly what is being protected and of implementing countermeasures that move the risk around but don't actually mitigate it."
  2. What are the risks against those assets?
  3. How well does the security solution mitigate the risks? ... "A countermeasure can fail both passively, by allowing an attack, and actively, by blocking legitimate access to the assets being defended."
  4. What other risks does the security solution cause?
  5. What trade-offs does the security solution require? ... "All countermeasures have a cost: not necessarily financial, but in terms of convenience, usability, freedoms, and so on. These trade-offs may have nothing to do with security, but often they are more important than security."

He talks about security systems (assets, people, technology, procedures, auditing), attackers, the weakest-link problem, detection, response, identification, authentication, and authorization.

And in each chapter, he uses small case studies to investigate concretely what he's been discussing: ATMs, credit card fraud, voting electronically vs. on paper, terrorist attacks, ID cards, etc.

A book about "security" may not seem like it could be a page-turner, but this one is. I recommend it to everyone because of its value in helping us make sense of the threats and risks in the world, at work, home, and in government, without being hysterical or submitting witlessly to bad security agendas.