Mesh and the History of Hacking – Part One

One of the things I celebrate in Mesh is hacking – the real, original version of hacking – along with the current version celebrated within cyberpunk. What I find interesting today is how, most kids have no idea what the history of hacking really is. Let’s spend a few moments talking briefly about that history, and then you’ll have a better sense of how Mesh fits into that history.

Before we start diving into the details, let’s do some housekeeping: This essay is by no means an exhaustive list of computer hacking incidents, nor is it meant to masquerade as an InfoSec white paper. I haven’t found too many places where old-school hacking is connected to modern cybersecurity, so I decided to write something up for myself and other interested readers.

The Olden Days

To begin with, did you know that hacking dates back to 1903? It’s true! Magician and inventor Nevil Maskelyne pranked John Ambrose Fleming’s demonstration of Guglielmo Marconi’s ‘secure wireless telegraphy technology.’  Maskelyne figured out how it worked and then he took over, sending insulting Morse code messages through the auditorium’s projector.

This tradition of science-based pranks continued, notably in the 1930s when Ken Wadleigh, who later in life became a dean at MIT, and 4 others welded a streetcar to metal rails by first distracting the motorman and then setting off thermite bombs to weld the wheels in place.

It wasn’t until 1955 that the word itself ‘hacking’ came into use in the meeting minutes of MIT’s Tech Model Railroad Club: “Mr. Eccles requests that anyone working or hacking on the electrical system turn the power off to avoid fuse blowing.”

So how did we get from model railroading to cyberpunk? Let’s continue the journey:

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Your Emotional Crisis Plan for The Rise of Skywalker

Your Emotional Crisis Plan for The Rise of SkywalkerWhoa, I did not expect that. Advanced reviews are trickling in and the critics sound as though Rise of Skywalker is more like the Ruse of Skywalker. According to at least one review, TRoS is ‘completely manic,’  and according to another this last installment of the franchise is “a sterling, shiny example of what Martin Scorsese would call ‘not cinema.'” When critics, who typically fall over themselves to faun over Star Wars, are lining up to stick knives into the movie, it’s a sign that we should plan for some type of Internet-wide emotional crisis. Star Wars outrage can spawn crazy, worldwide meltdowns.

How do we deal with the anger, the anxiety, and the disappointment?

First, let’s take a step back. TRoS is supposed to be, on some level, a response to the fan backlash in ‘The Last Jedi.’ The given understanding is that ‘The Last Jedi’ was a polarizing film that challenged what you believed about Star Wars. To that I say yeah, that’s what art is supposed to do. Rian Johnson got in our face and said “What do you really think this is about?” ‘The Last Jedi’ was about the story we needed to hear, not the story we wanted to hear. It made us feel something, it made us think, and it made us appreciate Star Wars on a new level. To that, I said, ‘bravo.’ That is what art is supposed to do.

Maybe the world wasn’t ready for that. That’s cool. Maybe we can look at this as a teachable moment for science fiction. You might take the opportunity to examine your artistic aspirations for this, and future scifi stories. To put it another way, when you go to a gallery, do you want to see Kandinksy and Monet, or do you want Thomas Kinkade? You can’t have both, you can’t have a ‘Kandinksy with the appeal of a Kinkade.’ That’s not how art works.

But to get us past this moment, the emotional surge of either love, bitterness, or outrage, mental health professionals will tell you that it’s valuable to have an emotional crisis plan. ECPs are designed to guide you through low moments and struggles. They help us respond effectively to stress, disappointment, and anxiety. How can we use this strategy to get us through the opening weekend of The Rise of Skywalker?

I have a few suggestions, and maybe you have others you’d like to share. First, let’s learn to manage ourselves or our tightly-wound friends:

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Mesh Networking: How It Works

So yes, Mesh takes its name from ‘mesh networking.’ Non-nerdy types might immediately wonder after finishing the book, ‘is this real? Can a mesh work?’ The answer to both questions is yes – mesh networking is totally real and can totally work. Let’s talk about the why’s and how’s in a handy little format for future reference.

Number one, let’s give out some technical terms in a very Explain Like I’m Five format. A node is a single device in a network, a link is the thing that connects two nodes, and a topology is the arrangement of nodes and links in a network. For example, the the picture on the right represents a topology’ of nodes and links. Nodes and links can take many forms, and a topology can take any form to represent how everything is connected together.

You’re used to seeing that in pictures of the Internet. Your computer or phone connects to a wireless router or network cable. From there, everything is routed and switched depending on what you want to do. This is all controlled, more or less, by specific organizations or companies with their own ideas of how a network is supposed to function (For example, AT&T, the FCC, or ICANN). With me so far? Okay.

Okay, now imagine that the Internet is broken. Or, you can’t use it, or you don’t want to use it. Does that mean your computer is useless? Of course not. It just means you can’t get to specific things that the Internet connects you to. You can still print, or transfer files back and forth between two computers on the sample simple network. Now imagine that everyone is in the same boat as you. They’ve got a small local network, but they can’t get to outside services like the Internet which means they’re disconnected from Twitter, Netflix or Google. What now?

This is where a mesh network comes in. A mesh can take advantage of the bluetooth or Wifi tech in your phone to broadcast info within a small range (100-200 meters). Each device then takes responsibility for being both the node, and the link at the same time. Put enough of these meshed devices together, and you’ve got a groovy little Internet of your own. No special tools, no crazy skills required.

People are already making use of mesh tech. Serval, and Firechat are both apps that exist to allow simple message and file transfer between anyone. Sonnet is working on their own mesh Wifi hot spots. We can expect more complex tools in the future.

In fact, Mesh networking can even work with old Ham radios. According to, ‘radio operators were using an internet of their own called Packet Radio. Packet Radio allows Hams to send files, update bulletin board systems, send text messages and even control remote systems and networks via their radios. Should some catastrophic event ever occur that takes out the internet, Packet Radio technology can still be used to link remote stations and form an ad hoc network — or emergency internet of sorts.’

So there you have it. Mesh is totally real, and totally do-able. The Internet has grown and changed over the years, with a view toward transparency and control. In Mesh, the kids decide find mesh networking to be a powerful weapon against the bad guys. It may be something you can find useful in your day-to-day life!




Star Trek – When Nerds Nerd Out

Star Trek - When Nerds Nerd OutThis /r/bestof post answered a question for me that I never knew I was asking: What *is* the Prime Directive? An anthropologist provides a detailed, nerdy answer and the results will totally blow your mind. No, I’m serious: prepare to have your melon bent. Here’s a quick preview:

“The problem here is that Star Trek, for as “enlightened” as it seems, essentially has adopted a 19th century perspective on social / cultural change, enhanced with some early 20th century Boasian concepts.

“The basic premise behind the Prime Directive is species have their own developmental trajectories, and that Starfleet / the Federation / other species shouldn’t interfere with that. So far so good. That’s moderately Boasian in its perspective.”

And then …

“[T]he idea of a society’s “natural development” is very much predicated on 19th century unilineal evolutionary ideas, that all societies develop along a single technological and social continuum. Even worse, the Federation and Starfleet enforce this by refusing planets’ admission to the organization if they don’t conform to certain criteria. And they use this as a bludgeon at times, as with the 3rd season episode, “The Hunted,” ( in which a society seeking admission to the Federation is refused admission because, to human Captain Picard, their means of waging war (super soldiers who are not properly reintegrated into society after their usefulness is over) is not palatable. The implication is that societies must change if they want admission, which comes with huge economic and technological benefits.

“As one character remarked (in an episode I don’t recall, but I think it was DS9, and maybe Quark), “at least with the Borg, you know where you stand. The Federation does the same thing, but is far more insidious.”

“While we could argue that many of the Federation’s stipulations are reasonable, there’s a significant amount of ethnocentrism at play here. Earth / human morality and ethics are always treated as monolithic, and are also always (well, almost always) treated as the default.”

And believe me, this is the Cliff Notes version. Go finish reading this delightful, yet insightful discussion on alien contact. Your brain will dissolve into a chewy mouthful of scifi nerdery, and you’ll be a better person for it.

What Is the Prime Directive?

The Future is Ethical

So if it isn’t clear by now, Inkican is a dedicated non-political space. It’s pretty simple why, I don’t know enough to articulate a solution and I don’t want to be another mouthbreather boring you with my opinions. Don’t ask me about it, because I don’t know. Even if I did know, I’m the last person you should get life advice from. This is our little zone of peace. The only thing I’ll say about current events is this: greed doesn’t work. Gordon Gecko said that greed is good in 1987, not so much in 2019. People are miserable, we’re sliding into a boring dystopia, it all comes down to a simple problem: exploitation vs. ethics. Me vs. We. We live in a society of ‘Me’s’ and it’s not working too well for us. The future is ethical, if we plan to survive the next hundred years.

Doc Brown, in Back to the Future III, said: “Your future is whatever you make of it!” He’s absolutely right, but the problem is that he assumed you weren’t a sociopath. We live in a different place now. Civilization is becoming more sociopathic and if we survive it at all, it’s because we’ve embraced some type of uniform ethical behavior. More on what that means below.

This isn’t a new idea, others have said the same thing. Since I’m not about giving my opinions, I’m just writing down what I think might happen if I think society goes one way or another. What if society started thinking about ethics, or ethical behavior, into its decisions?

Ethics, as Wikipedia defines it, ‘is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct.’ Those that have profited off the sociopathy aren’t going to give up without a fight, and that conflict is ultimately what Mesh is about. I’m not advocating a certain perspective, I’m just writing about what might happen if people made those types of choices in the future. It’s up to you to decide whether that’s a future you want to live in.

One thing is certain, a ‘Me’ society cannot last. It’s not a sustainable perspective. It might last for a small minority, but it won’t last for the majority and sooner or later our actions will catch up to us. Can’t buy your way out, can’t argue your way out, we all reap what we sew eventually whether it’s us or the people we leave behind.

So yeah, I’m not advocating for a specific position. Not equipped to. I’m saying all this as an objective observer of our time, extrapolating what it might mean if circumstances continue. Is it good? Is it bad? That’s up to you to decide. I see things in my head and I write them down, as much for me as it is for anyone else. We could also imagine a better place, if we want to. We can elaborate and explore value systems, transitioning to a world that respects diversity and is sensitive to culture. In fact, this choice is upon us whether we choose to see it or not. As this Huffpost essay points out: ‘those who come after us are also our fellow human beings. We must do to them as we would have wished that they would have done to us if it was they who had inhabited this planet before us.’

Or not. I’m not your Dad. We can fail to act, choose to ignore the problems staring us in the face, but we cannot avoid their consequences. If our philosophy is ‘me at any cost,’ well that’s been tried before. We’ve seen civilizations fall on that toxic perspective (Hello, Rome!). Maybe people want that, to be that failed civilization others wander through. Maybe they want to be the one that the villagers come for with torches and pitchforks. I mean, it doesn’t sound like something I want but you do you, homie.

Back to Mesh. You’ll throughout the story that the kids are faced with that same choice. It’s a little less ambiguous in their case – Roman and the gang literally will have the choice to take over the world if they want to. But will they? Do they want Me or We? The book is about that choice, and everything that comes after. You’ll be able to figure out who’s who as the story goes on. One thing is for certain, the Mesh kids won’t escape their choices.

Neither will we.

Mesh: Can This Really Work?

Mesh: Can This Really Work?

When writing a sci-fi book, one of the first questions you may be asked is ‘how real is your book?’ I’m happy to say that not only are the technologies I talk about in Mesh completely plausible, they’re completely real!

Don’t believe me, believe this write-up on the Mesh network of Havana, Cuba. According to Gizmodo, their mesh has been growing and changing since 2001: “Beginning in 2001, a small community of tech-savvy Cubans have been building a sprawling mesh network that stretches across Havana. This crowdsourced connectivity takes advantage of hidden Wi-Fi antennas and broadband cables stretched across rooftops to network over 9,000 com

puters across different neighborhoods in Cuba’s capital. The resultant Snet, or streetnet, enables people to exchange news updates, share files, and even play online games like World of Warcraft.”

Mesh networks make sense in places where Internet use is prohibited, or prohibitive. The technical details of Havana’s mesh are almost adorable, as this article entitled “If it Rains, Ask Grandma to Disconnect the Nano” goes on to prove.

Click Here to Learn More About Mesh Networking
Bottom line is, the Mesh is totally real and ready for you to discover. I hope you enjoy learning and discovering more about this geeky topic.
Click Here to Learn More About Mesh

What Scifi Gets Wrong About Virtual Reality

What Scifi Gets Wrong About Virtual RealityI had to laugh when I saw an article entitled ‘What if We’re Wrong About Virtual Reality?’ My snarky Gawker media-brain kicked in: Don’t worry honey, you are. VR and AR have been hot topics since the 80s. Now that Oculus and Playstation VR are here, we’re forced to contemplate what they mean. Is virtual reality going to take the place of real reality?

I’m throwing my hat into the ring of bonafide experts (which means I know as much as everyone else does: nothing) by saying “no.” In fact, most scifi gets virtual reality wrong, and for some very basic reasons. Let’s discuss why:

First and foremost, virtual and augmented reality are information apprehension and manipulation tools. They make it possible for us to look at, and work with, information in a different way. Think of them as the next generation monitor and keyboard if it helps. When it comes down to it, VR does the same job. I’m using my monitor so that my eyes can see the data, and my keyboard to manipulate the data. Have my keyboard and mouse taken over my life? Of course not. They’re platforms to consume and manipulate data. That’s all.

What Scifi Gets Wrong About Virtual Reality

When people talk about being ‘addicted to your phone’ or ‘addicted to your keyboard,’ the device isn’t the issue. The real issue is that you’ve allowed yourself to become addicted to that specific form of information consumption. It’s unhealthy, to be sure, but the phone isn’t the issue. The problem is between keyboard and chair (PBKAC, if you want to be nerdy about it).

We need a way to consume and manipulate information. Virtual reality breaks the current metaphors and analogues of that process, potentially giving us more meaningful, efficient ways to do that.

That’s not to say that this disruption isn’t without risk or cost. New technology disruption often butterflies off into dark, unintended consequences. That’s why scifi is ripe with cautionary tales like Hyper-Reality:

or Stalenhag’s Electric State series. Continue reading

What Mesh Means to Readers

Beta Readers are connecting with Mesh in a lot of different ways. I got this email yesterday from Mike in Tampa. He helped me explain something I couldn’t have done on my own – what Mesh means to readers. I got a lump in my throat reading this:


We were discussing, more informally, how I felt about Roman having a disability. I’d be more than happy to go on the record and say that I loved it, and here’s why. I have Epilepsy. It’s not even remotely the same disability that Roman has, but it’s a disability that has affected my life in some pretty negative ways. I have scars all across my body, including 2nd and 3rd degree burns, from my Epilepsy. I was forced to drop out of highschool, I only got my GED this past December. 
I relate to Roman because he was treated differently due to his disability, just like I was. I was babied, and I was picked on. I was treated like I couldn’t do even the simplest things for myself, and I was treated like I was faking, things I’ve noticed with Roman. I also had to have the help of technology to help me, like Roman did, though mine was an implant (VNS). 
Please, on behalf of the other cripples, keep Roman the way he is. He gave me hope when I was breaking my face every day during seizures, and I’m sure he’ll help other cripple kids.

As I said before, I want Roman to be a kid who’s ‘trying.’ Trying means different things to different people. For Mike, it’s about getting past his difficulties and Roman gives him someone to relate to. We’ll see what other people say in the months ahead, but for now I wanted to share this with you.
Thanks, Mike. :-}

The Schöner Machine of ‘Stranger Things’

A phrase in William Gibson’s ‘Hinterlands’ that keeps running through my head as I binge-watch Seasons 1 and 2 of ‘Stranger Things’ in preparation for Season 3. It’s ‘schöner machine,’ or ‘beautiful machine.’ Like William Gibson’s ill-fated astronaut, I can’t help but marvel at a beautiful machine, and that’s why I’m totally in love with this amazing Netflix show.

Stranger Things, above all, is a brilliant story. The Duffer Brothers’ ability to combine Eighties zeitgeist with classic science fiction mysteries and still create a completely authentic, autonomous universe is nothing short of remarkable.

The show drips with rich, elegant visuals that invite you to travel back through all the parts of the Eighties you don’t remember. Beautiful cinematography takes you through thick pile carpets, wooden console TVs, wood-paneled walls, and goofy retro bedrooms straight out of Better Homes and Gardens. You can’t help falling in love with the series for the design elements alone.

Verisimilitude is defined as ‘the appearance of being true or real.’ From the studied detail of the film scratches in the title sequence to ST’s epic soundtrack, all you feel is the reality of the universe. But the show doesn’t stop there. No, Stranger Things is a dense, thoughtful, and action-packed journey through one of the most interesting science fiction mysteries of the past decade.

Equal parts funny, scary, touching … you feel every square inch of Joyce’s torment at losing Will. You feel the boys’ love for their stricken friend. You feel Eleven’s conflicted feelings over her captors, her powers, and her new-found family. Even after you escape the primary story arc, there are other places to go. The show explores other parts of the characters’ lives with care and precision. These things are the hallmark of great storytelling, and Stranger Things has that market cornered.

Then you have the kids. God, I hope they turn out okay. I mentioned two years ago that I admire Gaten Matarazzo for how he’s handled his cleidocranial dysplasia. I said it before, and I’ll say it again: In science fiction, there are no weaknesses … there are only strengths you haven’t discovered.

Every actor inhabits a three-dimensional character that feels like someone you know from high school, your neighborhood, or your job. I’m particularly happy about seeing Winona Ryder and Matt Modine on screen again. The growing cast of child actors are incredibly talented. I hope they have long, safe and successful careers ahead of them.

So in short, I’m a fan of Stranger Things in several ways and for several different reasons. I love sci-fi and it doesn’t get much better than this. Not only that, the production of Stranger Things is a classic underdog tale.

We’ve been on a journey since the Duffer Brothers leap-frogged from short-film producers to pro filmmakers to rubbing elbows with M. Night Shyamalan on Wayward Pines to successfully pitching Stranger Things to Netflix via 21 Laps Entertainment. Stranger Things is the answer to every person who says ‘there’s no room for the little guys anymore.’

As Season Three comes out tomorrow morning and I settle in to binge-watch , I want to take a moment and say ‘Yes!’ Stranger Things is a beautiful machine, and until I started watching I had no idea how much I needed one in my life. I’m betting you do, too.

Makers Gonna Make

Makers Gonna Make

Bummer. The company that runs the Maker Faire abruptly shut down. According to Verge, difficulties with magazines and getting corporate sponsorship contributed to the collapse. They’re still committed to trying again, and that in a nutshell is why one of the central themes of Mesh is: Makers Gonna Make.

Here’s the thing: Maker culture is something that exists outside of a magazine, or an event. Making, creating, building, doing … those are intrinsic human values.

So while Verge seems to think this is a ‘huge blow’ to the Maker culture. I disagree … the maker community still exists, with or without an event. In fact, that desire to create is something that I wanted Mesh to be about, and it’s something I spend a lot of time exploring.

This isn’t an easy path, though. For example, how do you introduce 21st Century kids to concepts like tinkering, electronics, coding? It’s not enough to throw a Youtube channel at them. How will you connect them to the artisans, journeymen, and wrights that shaped human civilization over the past few thousand years? We live in a deeply stratified, specialized world now. It focuses on making as a means to an end, and you rarely hear about the why of making.

So while I see kids being very interested in making things – and all power to them – I feel like they’re missing out on something. There’s a massive history, culture, and heritage that you can’t pick up in a how-to article. Furthermore, maker culture is getting co-opted into a commodity, when one of the central themes of maker culture is that “you are not a commodity.” That mis-alignment, that pressure to make ‘making’ your identity, is turning people off.

Makers are gonna Make. That’s what we do.

Makers Gonna Make

So while I’m certain Maker Faires will still be around next year, and ten years from now, I want to talk about how Makers are gonna Make. That’s what we do. It’s not the only thing we do, it’s not the only thing we are, but we are never going to stop making. Creativity brings us joy, and we want to be happy people. So we make.

Mesh, along with the action and adventure, is a celebration of that reality. Roman, our hero, travels through virtual reality to be with those artisans and craftsmen, learning how people made things in the years before the Internet, before cyberspace. He meets some of those old-school nerds, fiercely independent and thoughtful people. They teach him what it means to be someone who can make amazing things, and what that power means.

So to sum up the issue of ‘Maker culture’ and Maker Faire, the answer is pretty simple. The culture tried something, and it worked for a while but then it stopped working. They’ll look at what went wrong, how to avoid that problem in the future, and then they’ll start over. As Henry Ford said, ‘Failure is the chance to begin again, but more intelligently.’

I’m confident that Maker Media will begin again, and we’ll enjoy what the Maker culture turns into next. After all, tomorrow is another day, another chance to fill 24 hours with 1,440 minutes of imagination.

Makers gonna make.