my recent reads..

The Right Way To Do Wrong

The Right Way To Do Wrong - An Exposé of Successful Criminals is a very old book, published in 1906. I was intrigued since it was written by Harry Houdini, as I hadn't realised he was also an author.

Houdini's motive for writing the book is to warn off the righteous by educating them in all forms of devious frauds and scams, and to cause those less well intentioned to give pause before taking up a life of crime.

Reading the book over 100 years after publication, I am amazed but perhaps on reflection not surprised that Houdini manages to describe in great detail just about every Internet-related scam in existence (allowing of course for a transposition of technology).

When he talks of Begging Letter Swindles, think Nigerian Letter or "419" Fraud. For Tricks of Bunco Men, see Advance Fee Scheme. The ease in which Impersonation/Identity Fraud was practiced in a pre-IT age... and just about every other gambit you can find on the FBI Common Fraud Schemes site.

If you are into IT Security, I think you'd enjoy reading this and mulling over the relevance to your day-to-day work. It is salutary to realise there is nothing new in the Evil that Men do, just new ways of doing it.

I listened to The Right Way To Do Wrong in audio from LibriVox. It is also available in print from Amazon.

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The Boat

The Boat is Walter Gibson's extraordinary account of survival after being lost at sea when the Dutch steamer Rooseboom was sunk by torpedo on 2 Mar 1942. Gibson survived 26 days afloat in a lifeboat with 135 others. Only 5 made it to shore. Three Javanese sailors were seperated to uncertain fate. A fourth was Doris Lim, who after surviving the boat died tragically under Japanese interrogation before ever tasting freedom again.

When the story first broke in the news, the world was shocked by the tales of murder and cannibalism that Gibson witnessed aboard the lifeboat. It is perhaps made even more horrific by the stark, concise manner in which Gibson recounts The Boat (completed for the 10th anniversary of the Rooseboom's sinking).

Find it at the NLB

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iTunes and DRM - Destroy Real Music

Ignatius Low gets nostalgic over music in it's physical form in an article for The Straits Times today (I still want a CD I can hold - Feb 3, 2008 - article is only available to online archive subscribers. ST hasn't quite caught up with the NYT yet!).

ABOUT a month ago, I made my first purchase from the Apple iTunes Store. It was a tedious and deliberate process, given that the iTunes Store hasn't been launched in Singapore yet, but it had to be done..

He goes on to question what would be lost if the world does move wholesale to digital downloads .. nostaligic memories of browsing for music with friends in the local record shop .. the personal stories forever tied to each CD or LP on your shelf.

Travelling and the Real Music Store Experience
Thankfully, we haven't totally lost the music store experience yet, although it is dominated by the major chains like HMV. I hope we never lose it. It would deprive me of one of the most enjoyable travel activities - whenever in a new city, I always try to make time for a few hours at a local music store to browse and buy. It is a great way to get a lock on the local music culture and discover some amazing artists.

DRM - The Worst Idea Ever Foistered on the Music Industry
There is a more insidious side to the whole digital download approach to purchasing music. Its called DRM - Digital Rights Management (or Destroy Real Music if you prefer). Still in use for most music on iTunes, DRM restricts your use to iTunes and iPod, and you only get 5 chances to register with another computer (like if you re-install or upgrade). Apple of course are not exactly forthright in telling you all this, prefering to regale you with all the benefits of digital downloads.

To make a LOTR analogy, its as if DRM is the poison holding Théodred under the spell of the wicked Wormtongue (read RIAA).

When I look at my record collection, I see the albums I inherited from my parents - even grandparents - and remember the thrill of exploring and learning to appreciate all this old and unusual music. I was the new generation rediscovering the musical gems of my elders, and I think a critical step towards musical maturity. It is how I found a place in my collection for Les Paul & Mary Ford, Duke Ellington and Fats Domino along side Iron Maiden, Madonna and Regurgitator.

If DRM and digital downloads become the way of the future, then this is one formative experience I will be unable to bequeath to any grandchildren I may be lucky enough to have.

The Dawn of a DRM-free Golden Age?
Thankfully, DRM seems to be on the way out - at least for music if not movies for the time being. And anyone who really cares about music should add their strength to kill it good and proper as soon as possible. EMI were perhaps the first major label to signal the trend, and break away from Wormtongue's spell.

The EMI move significantly bolstered Amazon's move on itunes with their DRM-free MP3 store (although in a perverse turn of logic, I can order physical CDs from Amazon yet because I live in Singapore I still cannot purchase their mp3 download versions. Go figure!)

Amazon's move was likely no insignificant factor in Apple now moving to dump DRM in their new iTunes Plus service (probably more correctly called iTunes Minus). Aple are still extremely coy in telling their users what's really going on (try searching for DRM on the iTunes site). I think it is scandalous how little information is provided to iTunes users about the DRM restrictions that are still applied to the majority of songs you can purchase on iTunes.

To put it simply: beware!
  • When you purchase music on iTunes, it is still DRM-locked, unless you are clearly given the iTunes Plus purchase option.
  • If you buy DRM-locked music on iTunes which is later made available unlocked in iTunes Plus, you can upgrade but you will have to pay for the privilege of getting you music purchases switched over (currently 40c per song or 30% of the album price)

Personally, I plan to stick to purchasing CDs, especially with so many available today at a nice price (like S$11.95 and up for recent chart albums). When amazon finally make the mp3 store available to me, I'll probably use that for the odd purchase (especially for individual tracks).

But iTunes? Sorry Apple. I love your iPods, but your support for DRM leaves such a bad taste that even now that you are reforming I will run a mile before willingly purchasing from your store.
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Spy Game / That's The Way I Like It

Just started watching Spy Game and got a surprise to see Adrian Pang playing a minor role.

He's a pretty big celeb in Singapore, mainly as a funny guy but also done his share of drama. Probably best know for co-hosting Yummy King (好吃王) with Michelle Chia.

But by far the best thing I've seen him do is a little-know movie called That's The Way I Like It. It's an hilarious transposition of Saturday Night Fever into a Singaporean context. Get it if you can (found at Library@Esplanade if you live in Singapore). Here's a teaser:
Disco hits Singapore. Hock, an ordinary underachiever, discovers disco when his favorite kung fu movie is replaced by a low-budget "Saturday night fever."

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