Cyber Attack by Martin Gitlin and Margaret J. Goldstein

Well, I certainly know a lot more about cyber crime and computer security and hacking than I did before I read this young adult nonfiction treatment of the history and current state of cyber attacks on the information we keep in our computer networks, thumb drives, hard drives, cell phones and and other internet connected devices. I also don’t feel nearly as safe as I did before I read about worms and viruses and bots and phishing and ransomware and Blackshades and lots of other nasty cyber-stuff.

Cyber Attack provides students and computer innocents (like me) with a basic introduction to the state of the internet, security-wise. Anyone with an interest in the subjects of cyber crime and cyber warfare is going to want to go deeper, and a bibliography in the back of the book provides readers with several avenues for exploration. I was freaked out enough by the information in the 72 pages of this little book to want to go off-grid for the duration.

Did you know that the computer software called Blackshades, which can take over the camera in your personal computer and take pictures of you in your own home, is a reality, not a myth? According to the author, “one Dutch teenager used his copy of Blackshades to take secret pictures of women and girls on about two thousand computers.”

Did you know that the U.S. has been involved in a secretive cyber war with Iran, trying to shut down or damage their nuclear facilities and capabilities, since 2008? And it’s probably still going on.

Did you know that the Russian and Chinese governments are actively engaged in cyber spying and attacks on U.S. companies and government computer networks, trying to get information about our economic secrets as well as military and other governmental information? And they’ve been quite successful in stealing quite a bit of information that has been of use in business negotiations and could be useful in the future if we ever do have a military confrontation with either country.

Did you know that the entire nation of Estonia–government services, banks, media outlets and other computer networks—came under cyber attack in 2007 from hackers located inside Russia? And even when the hackers were identified, Russia refused to arrest them or do anything to restrain or punish them.

Maybe you knew a lot of this stuff and more that’s in the book, but I didn’t. Again, Mr. Gitlin’s little book is a good introduction to the subject of cyber attacks. And how can a simple little old woman keep her herself and her information secure? Well, says the book, “You could cancel your Internet service, ditch your cell phone, close your bank account, throw away your debit card, and turn off your electricity. You could quit school and never take a job, vote in an election, get a driver’s license, or fly on an airplane. Of course, such a solution is completely unrealistic.”

Of course, the information in this book, published in 2015, is already incomplete and out-dated, to some extent. There’s a publisher’s note in the front of the book:

“This book is as current as possible at the time of publication. However events change rapidly and hacks, big and small, occur on a daily basis. To stay abreast of the latest developments related to hacking, check the New York Times and other major national newspapers for current, up-to-date information.”

Here are a couple of hacking-related news items that were not included in the book because they just happened in 2015:

Hillary Clinton, our Secretary of State, kept her emails on a privateserver located in some part of her house. (Hackers’ goldmine!) She says her information was secure, but no one really knows. “Was her server hacked? We don’t know. Private servers are considered more difficult to protect, in general, than the ones big e-mail hosts like Google use.” (Everything we know about the Hillary Clinton emails, September 15, 2015)

A hackers’ group calling themselves The Impact Team stole and published the private information for millions of users of the website Ashley Madison, a portal for people (mostly men) who wanted to commit adultery. Reporters and cyber security insiders keep saying that if it could happen to Ashley Madison, it could happen to any company on the web. So just know that your financial and personal information is not really safe anywhere on the web.

And the cyber attacks go on.

Saturday Review of Books

Sorry, guys, there’s no Saturday Review link-up this week. I was out of the house all weekend, and I just forgot to set up the Saturday Review post ahead of time. There will be a Saturday Review link-up next Saturday, October 3rd, and I hope to see you all there with your book review links.

Reading Picture Books With Children by Megan Dowd Lambert

Reading Picture Books to with Children: How to Shake Up Storytime and Get Kids Talking About What They See by Megan Dowd Lambert, in association with the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

I was quite impressed, and furthermore educated, by this guide to the “Whole Book Approach” to reading picture books aloud to children. Like the author, I am much more attuned to print than to pictures, and many of the techniques and strategies for helping children to engage with not only the text but also the illustrations and the graphic layout of a book would never have occurred to me on my own. Who looks closely at the endpapers of of a picture book? Or the frames and white space around the pictures? Have you ever thought about how artists adjust their illustrations to take into account the gutter, the place where the facing pages come together in the middle? Other than my husband, who used to be a printer, does anyone look at the typography in a picture book and think about how it adds to or detracts from the meaning and feel of the story? What about the size of the book? The orientation, portrait or landscape, of the pictures on the pages? The shape of the the book?

Ms. Lambert suggests some simple questions that story readers (adults) can ask the children with whom they are sharing a picture book:

How is the cover of this book inviting you into the story?
what clues do you see in the jacket art that tell you what the story might be about?
Why do you think the endpapers or the boards are this color?
Can you make a color connection to the jacket art?
What’s going on in this picture?
What do you see that makes you say that?
What more can you find?
Does anyone else have a different idea about this picture?

These are all things that Ms. Lambert spends a great deal of time analyzing and explaining, and she also has developed many ways of helping children to see and think about these things during story time. Reading Picture Books With Children is great book for parents, teachers, and librarians to come back to over and over to refresh and expand the way we engage with picture books and the way we lead children to do the same. I’m going to recommend the book to the Cybils picture book judges, who probably already know all about all this stuff. But I didn’t. And I went to library school, back in the dark ages. But I don’t remember discussing any of these design and illustration choices in my children’s literature classes or in any other education or library science classes. Anyway, I really appreciate the publisher, Charlesbridge, who sent me a copy of this book for review, and I plan to recommend it to others who are interested in introducing children to art and illustration and graphic design in picture books.

Reviewing picture books here on the blog just got a lot more interesting, and my reviews might be a lot more perceptive and interesting, too. Maybe. But I’m still a print/story/words kind of gal.

” But art just wasn’t my thing. Or so I thought. The picture book class showed me that art could be my thing–even if I wasn’t an artist. I’d just have to learn to think with my eyes.”

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff

Lost in the Sun reminded me of one of my favorite middle grade fiction authors, Gary Schmidt and his book, Okay for Now, and that’s high praise because I loved Okay for Now. A few of the plot developments seemed a little too coincidental or out of the ordinary to be believed, but I was willing to suspend disbelief because I really cared about the characters and wanted to see them come to some kind of resolution, or even victory.

Trent Zimmerman is the middle son of a divorced mom and dad. He lives with his mom and his two brothers, Aaron and Doug, and he visits his dad and stepmom when he must. However, Trent is convinced that everyone, especially his dad, hates him and sees him as a “screw-up” because of something that happened about six months before the opening of the story. That’s when Trent killed his fellow hockey-player, Jared, with a hockey puck to the chest. Although the hit was unintentional and no one knew that Jared had a heart condition that combined with the hockey puck to send him into cardiac arrest, Trent knows that it’s still his fault that Jared is dead. And everyone else knows it, too.

So, we have Trent, a lost kid with anger issues, and then in chapter two we meet Fallon Little, the girl with the scar. Fallon helps to diffuse a situation with Trent and some bullies, and then, she refuses to go away, doing everything within her power to become Trent’s friend. Only Trent is so self-centered and lost in his anger and regret that he barely has time or energy for friendship. And Fallon has issues of her own. Whenever people ask how she got the scar that traverses her face from her left eyebrow down to the right corner of her mouth, she tells a different story. Maybe she was mauled by a a grizzly bear. Or slapped by a manatee. Or maybe she has amnesia and can’t remember how she got the scar.

The book gives attentive readers lots of answers about Trent and how he got to be so frightened and angry and what he needs to do to recover and move on with his life, but Fallon remains a mystery to some extent. Why does she wear such odd clothing combinations? Why does she want to be friends with Trent? Why is her father so silent and unapproachable? How did she really get that scar? None of these questions is really answered satisfactorily, although I could make a guess at some of the answers. Maybe that’s because the story is told in first person from Trent’s point of view, and Trent isn’t the most perceptive or pathetic character on the block. In fact, as the story begins and Trent starts sixth grade (middle school), he’s a smart aleck who picks fights and hates his dad, his teachers, his classmates, and himself.

Some good questions to explore with middle grade readers of Lost in the Sun:

Why does Trent hate everybody? Why does he believe they all hate him?

Who’s right, Trent’s dad who says “sometimes you only get one chance in life” or Trent’s mom who tells him that she doesn’t believe you only ever get just one chance?

Why do you think Fallon wants to be friends with Trent? What does Fallon need from a friend? Can Trent be the kind of friend that Fallon wants him to be?

How do you find the self control to keep your anger from making you do something violent or stupid? How does Trent begin to control himself?

How does Trent try to get other people to like him or trust him? What are some other ways to make up for a past mistake or wrongdoing?

Are there any hints in the story about how Fallon got the scar? How do you think Fallon got her scar?

I won’t give away the ending, but I rather liked it. And I’m not usually a fan of this particular type of conclusion.

Dreamland by Sam Quinones

Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones.

Mr. Dreher told me to read Dreamland, and so I did. Click on the previous sentence link to read a synopsis. Or read an excerpt from the book here. I found the story to be fascinating and very sad.

“We need to tell young people the truth. Drug addiction is an epidemic, and it is taking too many of our young people,” Carly Fiorina said during the recent Republican debate. “My husband Frank and I buried a child to drug addiction.”

Deaths from overdose of prescription painkillers (opioids) are rising, and Dreamland shows how opiod abuse, if it doesn’t kill you, can lead directly and tragically to heroin addiction. The book also chronicles the rise of a Mexican drug business model that sells “black tar heroin”, specifically targeting mid-size Midwestern towns and cities where opioid (especially Oxycontin) abuse is already a problem. The book looks at the complicity and duplicity of the drug companies who sold these pain killers by emphasizing their supposed non-addictive qualities while knowing that patients were becoming addicted. Quinones also writes about the lives of young men from the Mexican state of Nayarit who come to the United States to take part in the family business of selling and delivering black tar heroin and get hooked on another “drug”, easy money and all the Levis, yes, blue jeans, that money can buy.

I was fascinated and appalled to read about the problem of heroin addiction and overdose that is manifesting itself yet again in American towns and cities. I remember the seventies when heroin addiction was enslaving and killing the hippies and the the wannabe hippies of my generation. I read The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson and other books of the same ilk, and I knew then that drug abuse was something that I never wanted to see “up close and personal,” certainly not in my own life or in that of my family.

Yet, I still have people, members of my own family, who tell me that marijuana isn’t like those other illegal drugs. Or alcohol is OK in moderation, and of course, they would never, never drink to excess. Or they can experiment with other drugs, cocaine for example, and still remain in control. I say they are playing with fire—and very likely to get burned. To extend the metaphor, if you need a little fire, perhaps a prescription painkiller for a limited time and for a specific purpose, to do a job, you had better be careful to use as directed and not become engulfed in the flames. Apparently, a lot of people are becoming enslaved to drugs, and many of them are dying of drug-related causes. I am willing to draw the lines sharp and clear in order not to become one of their number.

For me:
No alcohol. (it tastes nasty anyway)
No marijuana. (never tried it, not interested)
No illegal drugs of any kind.
Very few and limited prescription drugs, only when needed.

Your lines may be different, but please draw some and find your joy somewhere else besides in substance abuse or greed. If you’ve already become enslaved, Jesus is still in the business of rescue. Get some help, and turn to the One who resurrects dead people.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman

Anne Fadiman’s 1997 book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures won her literary prizes, national attention, particularly from the medical and social work communities, and many similar accolades. I read that the the book is required reading for first year medical students in many American medical schools, and I am convinced after reading the book, that it should be required reading for all doctors and medical students. It should also be required for spiritual “doctors”, missionaries and pastors, especially those who relate to refugee populations or who attempt to minster cross-culturally.

The book tells the story of a Hmong family from Laos and their difficulties with the medical system in Merced County, California, as it related to their epileptic daughter, Lia Lee. However, the story is much more than just a history of tragic misunderstandings across cultures. Ms. Fadiman also intersperses a great deal of the history and folklore of the Hmong people, and she explains some of the deep cultural differences between the Hmong and the Americans who welcomed them into this country. The story of Lia Lee and her family shows how those differences became insurmountable walls that led to Lia’s eventual “living death” of entering into a persistent vegetative state for the final twenty-six years of her life.

Hmong spiritual practices such as shamanism and ritual sacrifice clashed with modern medical practice. Hmong beliefs in patriarchy and demons causing sickness conflicted with doctors who believed that their authority and medical education entitled them to prescribe what treatment Lia should get. The doctors expected Lia’s parents to trust them and follow their directions. Lia’s parents expected the doctors to “fix Lia” and then leave them alone to care for her as they saw fit. Neither the doctors nor the parents were listening to the other, partly because of the language barrier, but even more because of a cultural barrier that made them disrespect and distrust one another. As a result of miscommunication and stubbornness on both sides, Lia became “quadriplegic, spastic, incontinent, and incapable of purposeful movement. Her condition was termed a persistent vegetative state.’

My thoughts about this story tended toward the spiritual, even though the very few brief mentions of Christians or Christianity in the book are uniformly disparaging. How would I talk about Jesus or share His love with a Hmong neighbor? To begin to communicate the love of Christ to a person of a very different background and culture would take what Eugene Peterson called “long obedience in the same direction.” (The phrase actually comes from Nietzsche, of all people.) I would have to put myself and my own feelings aside and live my life before God as a loving and patient and understanding neighbor, always being ready to give a reason for the hope within me. In fact, that’s what we are going to have to do more and more as our culture moves away from a Christian consensus such that there’s a deep cultural chasm between Christians and almost anyone else that we try to love and evangelize. We have to be patient and kind and persistent and faithful.

And we have to be willing to fail, and leave the ending to God and His mercy.

Lia Lee 1982-2012
Lia Lee died on August 31, 2012. She was thirty years old and had been in a vegetative state since the age of four. Until the day of her death, her family cared for her lovingly at home.

Saturday Review of Books: September 19, 2015

“Heaven must be a place where the library is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. No … eight days a week.” ~Flavia deLuce in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley


Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

You can go to this post for over 100 links to book lists for the end of 2014/beginning of 2015. Feel free to add a link to your own list.

If you enjoy the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon, please invite your friends to stop by and check out the review links here each Saturday.

The Harvester by Gene Stratton Porter

This romance, by the author of Freckles and Girl of the Limberlost, reminded me of the novels of Grace Livingston Hill, an author I hadn’t thought about in a long time.

Hill’s messages are simple in nature: good versus evil. As Hill believed the Bible was very clear about what was good and evil in life, she reflected that design in her own works. She wrote about a variety of different subjects, almost always with a romance worked into the message and often essential to the return to grace on the part of one or several characters.
If her clear-cut descriptions of evil in man and woman were Hill’s primary subjects in her novels, a secondary subject would always be God’s ability to restore. Hill aimed for a happy, or at least satisfactory, ending to any situation, often focusing on characters’ new or renewed faith as impetus for resolution. ~Wikipedia

As in Livingston Hill’s novels, the romance in The Harvester is central to the action and theme of the story. The Girl, Ruth Jameson, has been brought low, physically, mentally, and spiritually, by grinding poverty, the death of her beloved mother, and the cruelty of her uncle, her only remaining family. The Harvester, a paragon of a man, carved and fortified by his closeness with nature, sees a vision of Ruth before he meets her, and he is determined to court her and teach her to return to health, enjoy the natural world, and eventually love The Harvester as he loves Ruth at first sight. The entire 375-page book chronicles this enormously high-minded and virtuous romance as well as The Harvester’s views on life, nature, and ethics. The Harvester (whose name is David Langston, but who is most often called simply “The Harvester” in the book) brings Ruth back from the brink of death, both physical and spiritual, by the force of his unassuming and principled stance, and he searches for ways to show her his undying love while never forcing her to feel as if she must respond to his feelings in kind.

What more could a girl ask for? The Harvester is a very old-fashioned story with an antiquated paradigm of human perfectibility (The Harvester) as well as human frailty (The Girl). Nevertheless, it was fascinating. Ms. Porter published this book in 1911, and the atmosphere of the story is definitely early twentieth century or turn of the century. There’s a whiff of fine Teddy Roosevelt “muscular Christianity” along with several nods to a softer, kinder Darwinian evolution and survival of the fittest. We are shaped by our environment and by our decisions, and God shapes the world through the process of evolution.

Toward the end of the book, David Langston preaches to a convention of medical doctors while giving a speech about his work of harvesting the medicinal plants of the woods where he lives:

“I am pleading with you, as men having the greatest influence of any living, to tell and to teach the young that a clean life is possible to them. The next time any of you are called upon to address a body of men tell them to learn for themselves and to teach their sons, and to hold them at the critical hour, even by sweat and blood, to a clean life; for in this way only can feeble-minded homes, almshouses, and the scarlet woman be abolished. In this way only can men arise to full physical and mental force and become the fathers of a race to whom the struggle for clean manhood will not be the battle it is with us.”

Even if you updated that language, can you imagine such a speech being given at an AMA convention nowadays? The Harvester would be laughed off the stage. Since the book is his, however, by virtue of the author’s having written it so, The Harvester gets an ovation and multiple accolades from the newspapers and from the doctors in attendance. And in the end he also gets the girl–a fine ending for an idealistic and exemplary romance.

Saturday Review of Books: September 12, 2015

“Book lovers will understand me, and they will know too that part of the pleasure of a library lies in its very existence.” ~Jan Morris


Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

You can go to this post for over 100 links to book lists for the end of 2014/beginning of 2015. Feel free to add a link to your own list.

If you enjoy the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon, please invite your friends to stop by and check out the review links here each Saturday.

What I’ve Been Reading Online

I still read a lot of books, over one hundred so far this year. However, I must admit that I read a lot of interesting and thought-provoking posts and articles on the internet, too. I believe I can do both. I try to take care that it doesn’t get out of balance, not too much internet reading, and not all my reading confined to books that are by their nature not up to the moment in their commentary.

Anyway, here are links to few things I’ve read on the internet lately that you might find of value:

Isn’t the Green Ember Like Watership Down? by S.D. Smith at The Rabbit Room. “When I finally read Watership Down, I discovered I had built a lego hut in the shadow of the Taj Mahal.” Surely, one can appreciate both books for what they are. As Madeline L’Engle liked to say, “Comparisons are odious.”

Love Faith, and Devotion: The Inspiration of Frances Chesterton, an article about G.K. Chesterton’s wife by Nancy Carpentier Brown, author of the biography The Woman Who Was Chesterton.

What Tolkien Can Teach Us About Love and Family by Mark Judge at Acculturated. “What sustains Frodo on his journey to Mordor is love, his love of his home, the Shire, his love of his friends, and of his Uncle Bilbo.”

Reviews of books I want to read:
The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch by Chris Barton, reviewed at Fuse #8.
The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz, reviewed by Abby the Librarian.
7 Women and the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas, reviewed by Brenda at Coffee, Tea, Books, and Me.