And Now … Some Cartoon Music

All this COVID stuff got you down? Here’s something we can all appreciate – Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Liszt. You know this piece even if you don’t know it’s name – it’s the basis for many, MANY musical numbers for Bugs Bunny, Daffy, Tom and Jerry cartoons. A million hours spent watching cartoons came flooding back while listening to this – it’s lovely to just hear the music by itself.

No matter what’s happening outside, don’t let it take you away from you. There’s beauty in this world, and it’s worth enjoying.

Cyberpunk Justice – Even If You Lose, You Win

There’s an interesting, under-discussed concept within computer hacking, and this article from a couple of weeks ago proves that it’s a thing: according to, Tatenda Chinyamakobvu was arrested for hacking a database to change his grades. Now, he’s representing Zimbabwe in Geneva at the #Hack4SmartSustainableCities conference. Within cybersecurity, there’s a strong undercurrent of ‘even if you lose, you win’ (EIYLYW).

If you embrace the philosophy of ‘systems can be hacked,’ then it’s no surprise that budding hackers apply this to the outside world. This should be of interest to anyone who follows ‘cyberpunk justice.’ Black hat hackers are famous for using their experience to propel them into lucrative, legitimate careers. This Mashable article cites seven examples, but we could cite many more.┬áHacking can also be lucrative in other legal ways.

For instance, corporations have embraced this reality in the form of ‘bounty programs.’ As Wikipedia points out, “[t]hese programs allow the developers to discover and resolve bugs before the general public is aware of them, preventing incidents of widespread abuse.” I’ll give you three guesses who finds these bugs, and the first two don’t count.┬áPut all those facts in a paint shaker and what comes out? Even if you lose, you win. Breaking the rules is okay, if you do it right.

I’m spitballing some of these concepts right now because I haven’t heard an articulate breakdown from anyone about ethics and hacking yet. What I’ve come up with so far is the value of choice in a world where the space between haves and have-nots grows wider every day.

I mean, how are you supposed to tell kids to follow the rules when the kids who break the law are getting sent to the head of the line? How will you sell them on ‘if you work hard and do things right, you’ll succeed?’ Right now, the world’s actions communicate very clearly that EIYLYW works.┬áThe next generation may hear what you say, but they watch what you do. When you reward EIYLYW, you’re telling them what you really care about.

But what kind of future will this lead to?┬áMy personal belief system includes integrity and ethics, so I don’t personally subscribe to EIYLYW. I’m a firm believer that it’s not just about what you do, but how you do it. That’s why I encourage people via Mesh to think about building their skills in ethical ways.

On one hand, I can see why many people would embrace EIYLYW.┬á But without ethics or limits, we’re no better than the bad guys. The closer we get to a systems devoid of accountability, the more important it’s going to be to choose your direction. After all, this isn’t just about you. It’s about all of us.

Mesh and the History of Hacking – Part Three

Back to Part Two

Full Cyberpunk

Continuing our previous discussion about the history of hacking, we now come to the final stage of computer hacking as it enters the 21st Century. It’s easy to say something like ‘9/11 changed everything.’ 9/11 did force a sea change in terms of how governments viewed physical and cyber security, but the factors were in place several years before and continued throughout this time period.

As previously noted, the first elements of cyberwarfare took place in 1991. Five years later, Moonlight Maze was an investigation regarding a massive data breach affecting the Pentagon, NASA, the Department of Energy and other agencies.

In Eastern Europe around the year 2000, ‘cyber arms marketplaces’ began to develop, offering cyber weapons for sale to the highest bidder. Computer crime became cyber terror, with attacks such as the Melissa Virus (1999), ILOVEYOU Virus (2001), and the Code Red Worm (2002).┬áNon-political acts of┬ásabotage caused financial and other types of damage. In 2000, a disgruntled employee caused the release of 800,000 litres of untreated sewage into waterways in Maroochy Shire, Australia.

All of these acts were viewed individually and not given long-term worldwide attention. However, in the post-9/11 era, governments and corporations looked at computer hacking in a different light; hackers were more than innocent pranksters. Now, computer hacking was a form of ‘asymmetric warfare.’┬á Hackers were potentially soldiers, or terrorists.┬áNew guidelines and principles began to take shape.

At the same time, infosec-related incidents took on a new level of urgency and impact. In 2003, the Titan Rain attacks focused on American computer systems, gaining access to many United States defense contractor computer networks including Lockheed Martin, Sandia National Laboratories, Redstone Arsenal, and NASA. In 2007, the country of Estonia suffered an almost crippling level of cyber attack against many government, university, and banking systems. The attacks triggered military organizations to reconsider the importance of network security to modern military doctrine.

Computer hacking also became an avenue for staggering amounts of money. Data breaches rippled across major companies from 2006 forward, and now have become a part of our regular news landscape. Computer hacking also allowed people like Ivan Turchynov to make $100 Million by hacking press release companies for information that would impact the stock market. Entertainment companies like Sony and HBO were hit by hackers interested in upcoming shows and in some cases, the hackers also gained access to email and payroll information.

Governments began using offensive cyberwarfare during this period, as shown in the case of the Stuxnet bot designed to cripple the Iranian nuclear program. Executive orders now ensure sanctions, freezing assets of those who threaten the national security, foreign policy, economic health, or financial stability of the US. Government probes continue to highlight vulnerabilites in every computer system, such as this incident where the avionics of a 737 were remotely penetrated by white hat hackers.

Advanced persistent threats continued through the end of the 2010. Operation Aurora aimed attacks at dozens of organizations and companies including Google, Morgan Stanley and Yahoo. Even as recently as a year ago, cyber-warfare events continue, including a potential attack on the Russian electrical grid by the United States. Yesterday’s newspaper proves that computer hacking is still a thing between nation-state actors, and we can only guess at what the future holds.

The Moral of the Story

So if you’ve come this far, you might be saying “Okay, thanks. So what?” The moral of the story is a bit sad, in that hacking’s storied past has been co-opted by bad people who only see hacking as a means to an end. It wasn’t always like that, but that’s the prevailing argument today. Don’t believe me? Just watch this video about how Hollywood views hacking.

I freely admit: this history is by no means exhaustive. I wrote this to illustrate a central truth about computer hacking that the next generation of geeky kids needs to understand. Hacking isn’t just about curiosity, or discovery anymore. Computer hacking brings you into the orbit of some dangerous people: career criminals, spies, and potential terrorists.

Does that mean all technical knowledge is dangerous? No, of course not. White hat hackers, pen testers, and other associated infosec professionals utilize that knowledge in a safe and responsible way every day.

But here’s the thing. Now that hacking has evolved to its current state, it would be a mistake to think that there’s a safe middle ground.┬áHacking is largely seen as an extension of criminals and state-acted warfare, is that something you want to be a part of? If you take nothing else from this discussion, let it be this: Technical knowledge can be a powerful tool in the right hands. But, as Uncle Ben said in Spiderman: ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’

My hope is that this discussion will help put some historical and cultural context around hacking, and finally to one of the central themes of Mesh:

Mesh and Hacker Culture

One of the things I wanted to do when I started writing Mesh is to focus on the original tenets of hacker culture: discovery, curiosity, and responsibility. Up until the seventies and eighties, to be a hacker was to be one of the strongest geeks in the room. The guy who could do anything, make it work no matter what, and then humbly disappear into the background.

Currently, hacking is seen as a threat and as we grow and change in the 21st century, there will be a need to carve out the culture of hacking and making from cracking and taking.┬áIn Mesh, we’ll watch some geeky kids in the future make that discovery.

We’ll cheer Roman, Zeke, Taj, and everyone else as they hack their way past world-changing, death-defying odds. When they finally succeed, we’ll be ready to step forward into the world they risked everything to save. After all, if we aren’t willing to make the world a great place for everyone, what are we doing with ourselves?

Thanks very much for coming along with me on this journey through the history and culture of hacking.

I link a number of articles throughout this essay – but I’d also like to cite these articles, too:

“Persistence is absolutely key” – Notes on Writing

I ran across this post on /r/bestof and wanted to pass it along.. I’m always on the market for an insight about the life, so James Callum’s notes on writing, and how persistence plays a key role, struck a note with me. Maybe it will with you, too:

The internet (and life) is filled with the stories of people who made it rich, made it big, etc. As with everything, but quite heavily with writing, luck plays such a massive role. If J.K. Rowling didn’t submit her manuscript at a specific time, if the guy reading it didn’t have his (niece? daughter? I’m vague on the story particulars) read it and tell him it was good, the list goes on. Did a particular agent have their coffee that day?

Tiny things can have massive impacts on a person’s whole career and it honestly boggles my mind at how many great works of art and literature we’ve never seen because somebody was stuck in a dead-end job, they got rejected too many times, or they simply gave up for lack of support whether emotional or financial.

Persistence is absolutely key. Most of us (aspiring authors) will never get that lucky break from the get-go. Even the really big name authors have many stories that were rejected. It’s practically a trope at this point. It sounds meaningless and trite when you say it so simply but think about it like this: Each novel likely took months if not years of work. They were rejected for years and kept writing and kept getting rejections. Never knowing if they’d ever be able to get over it. Each novel is a part of you, it’s special even if it sucks. You can try to remind yourself the rejection isn’t personal but it doesn’t matter. It still hurts.

You can read the rest of his post here – I don’t approve of the naughty language he uses, but the above paragraphs represent some powerful ideas that all writers should be aware of. Everyone fails. Everyone. Rejection, not failure, is the default state for writers. True failure would be to allow those rejections to stop us.

Story Structure Sins: Iron Giant’ing

Did you know that a beloved childhood movie is also the genesis of an irritating story trope? It’s crazy enough to be true – watch this video to understand how we get from Vin Diesel making you cry like a baby to Tony Stark making you sigh angrily in frustration.

Iron Giant’ing: It’s a Thing!

Mesh and the History of Hacking – Part Two

Back to Part One

As mentioned in the previous essay, Mesh celebrates the history of hacking, not just breaking into computers. It’s important to remember that legitimate hacking is an integral part of geek culture. Hacking also builds curiosity, discovery, and tenaciousness; necessary skills for any techno-minded individual hoping to make their way in this world. We covered some major hacking history up until the end of the 1980s, now let’s discuss what happened from the 1990s until now.

The Empire Strikes Back

From 1990 forward, it was clear that government looked at hacking, not just a harmless prank, but as a serious threat. Operation Sundevil was a multi-agency federal operation aimed at hackers. In the UK, Parliament passed the Computer Misuse Act 1990, criminalizing unauthorized access to computer systems. Continue reading

Lessons Learned From The World’s Toughest Milkman

Skipping through Openculture last night, I came upon an indie documentary called ‘I Thought I Told You to Shut Up!’ and all kinds of thoughts ensued. I’m including it below, watch and then let’s talk about the lessons learned from The World’s Toughest Milkman. Reid Fleming is a counter-culture icon, and his journey can teach us a lot about the life of a creative professional:

I’ll be honest – I knew nothing about David Boswell or Reid Fleming until last night. From what I hear, Reid Fleming’s humor is similar to mine, and it’s reflected in some of the scenes I wrote in Mesh. Real comedy, and life lessons, often come from that weird left corner of the universe. Listening to the sad story of Boswell’s good intentions, you can’t help but empathize. An honest artist with a family to feed can be a tasty morsel in the mouth of the Tinseltown Machine.

Even people like Matt Groenig acknowledge Reid Fleming’s impact on the world of comic art, while simultaneously saying ‘yeah, but that’s Hollywood.’┬áSo what lessons can we derive from the fate of the World’s Toughest Milkman? I’ve identified a couple:

  • There’s a universe of art and ideas out there that most of us don’t know about
  • Ideas are easy, execution is hard
  • Real artists ship, but that ship can sink! I need to make sure Mesh gets on the right boat, headed to the right destination
  • Mesh needs, not only people who want to read it, but toughness and competence – I’m going to run into the same types of people Boswell did, and I must be prepared

The unpolished authenticity of Reid Fleming is not to be ignored – it’s very similar to the gritty, authentic universe I’m building over here. If I want that universe to be inhabited and loved, I need to be tough.

Just like Reid Fleming.