Review: The Hard Thing About Hard Things

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Ben Horowitz

5.0 out of 5 stars ABSORBING – Requires Open Mind, March 16, 2014

I generally read all the reviews before writing my own, in part to see if anyone has already covered the ground the way I like to, with a summary evaluative review. There are only two reviews before mine that I consider world-class, please do read them if you have the time. I refer to the reviews by Mercenary Trader and Scott S. Bell, I salute both of them for providing substance useful to all.

This is not a comprehensive book in that it is a very personal perspective, brings together many specific snapshots, but never addresses “root” in relation to how the team went from great idea to source code to buzz to market share. As I read the book I thought often about a book I read in the 1980′s, still a classic, Tracey Kidder’s The Soul of A New Machine.

I would say this book is an absolutly priceless gem for the “hard knocks” at the CEO level perspective, and should be combined with any of several alternatives on start-ups such as Matt Blumberg’s Startup CEO: A Field Guide to Scaling Up Your Business, + Website, and, forthcoming, Peter Thiel of PayPal’s Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future.

I’ve built two companies, both failures in that I never made the leap from one man with an obession to a movement (OSS.Net, Inc. and Earth Intelligence Network, a 501c3) and what I did not see in this book, or any other book I have found, is the roadmap for getting from a big idea to big marketshare. That book remains to be written, and it could be that it should be written by Marc Andressen and a team. Jim Clark’s Netscape Time: The Making of the Billion-Dollar Start-Up That Took on Microsoft is a fine but dated (1999) start but we need something now tailored to the Internet of Things (what everyone else is thinking about) and free individual access to and ability to leverage all information in all languages all the time (what I have been thinking about since 1986 — visit Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog to learn more). I am also reminded of Michael Lewis’s The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story.

All this by way of saying that you have no business reading or buying this book if you are expecting a holistic 360 degree soup to nuts outline of how to zero to Mach 2. The greatest value of this book for me was in learning that it is possible to keep flying when you lose power and both wings fall off at the same time.

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Mar 16

Worth a Look: Beyond Transparency – Open Data and the Future of Civic Innovation

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Jan 23

Review: Stratagem: Deception and Surprise in War

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Barton Whaley

5.0 out of 5 stars Pioneeding, Deep, Essential, Needs 21st Century Follow-Up September 5, 2013

I borrowed this book from another officer, and have been quite delighted to spend time with it.

This is a much older book than most realize (1969) and its examples and case studies stop with the Six-Day War in 1967 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. It is certain a book that is worthy of being brought up to date through to the varied wars of the 21st Century; it is also a book that would merit a deeper look at the ethics, efficacy, and frequent perversion of deception operations, by which I mean both the mission and the mind-set creep from focused deception to what has been called “Strategic Communication,” or lies so broad and deep we believe them ourselves and want everyone else to believe them also. Apart from being dated, this is the books more important oversight – it does not offer the reader a balanced appraisal of when transparency, truth, and trust are a better investment than pervasive and pernicious deception of one’s own public, global leaders, and global publics. The latter may be asking too much, I will soften it by strongly endorsing this book as a reader for war colleges around the world, with my own monographs (free online) from the U.S. Army Strategic Studies Institute (SSI), as the counterfoil.

Now for the good of this book, this is considerable. This book merits vastly more attention than it has been getting, in part because the US marketplace is dumbed down and drugged up, and the US military still has a “hey-diddle-diddle up the middle mind-set.” “Keep it simple” is often actually “keep it stupid.” In that context, this book could be used to teach both ethics and nuanced thinking at the war colleges. The book offers – and the author points out this is the least visible part of the book – “an original exercise in methodology – a method designed to unmask deception when it is present.”

The author’s introduction to the 2007 reprint is BRILLIANT. I can do no better and therefore I keep the book at five stars and suggest that the introduction, and my extractive summary of the book provided here at Amazon, be used as handouts across the war colleges.

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Sep 6

Review: The Media Ecosystem — What Ecology Can Teach Us About Responsible Media Practice

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Antonio Lopez

5.0 out of 5 stars A unique and timely integrative overview with many original insights, August 22, 2013

I received this book as a gift, and am glad that I did as I normally would not have noticed it, bought it, or reviewed it. I hope my review will inspire others to buy the book, and if not, provide a summary of some of the highlights that I consider quite timely, original, and useful.

This is a manifesto of sorts, on CRITICAL INFORMATION, or stated another way, on public decision-support needs and the urgency of restoring both integrity (tell the truth) and holistic soundness (report on everything, and on the cause and effect cost and consequences of everything in relation to everything). Of course modern media fails this test, and the author should be credited with providing a manifesto and high-level handbook of how we might proceed.

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Aug 22

Review: Disinformation: Former Spy Chief Reveals Secret Strategy for Undermining Freedom, Attacking Religion, and Promoting Terrorism

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Ion Mihai Pacepa and Ronald J. Rychlak

3.0 out of 5 stars Walks, Talks, and Smells Like a CIA Publication, July 13, 2013

This book is being touted by Radio Liberty, a CIA subsidiary, and everything about it reeks of a CIA disinformation operation.

First, though, an acknowledgement. The Soviets, working largely through their more gifted satellite nations (Romania was not one of them, Romania belonged to the Pope and the CIA), did do disinformation, and very well. There is no finer book on this subject than that by Ladislav Bittman, THE DECEPTION GAME.

This book is an entirely different matter.

01 It’s author is a known Vatican “fellow traveler” if not an agent of influence under discipline.

02 It’s author walks, talks, dresses like, and gives off every appearance of being a CIA bureaucrat. While we believe him to be legitimate in so far as his past occupation (read his Wikipedia profile) — this guy appears to be one of CIA’s “light” non-official cover officers.

03 The book’s argument, that all of the USA’s present troubles stem from a successful Soviet-era disinformation, is idiocy at best, outright lies and fabrication and deliberate disinformation at worst. Every other non-fiction book I have read and reviewed here at Amazon generally contradicts this book. The USA went in search of enemies, and created them. The Cold War was a creation of CIA and Lockheed and military flag officers all too eager to profit from war and push the edge of financial fraud.

On balance I do not recommend this book — CIA is already a waste of the taxpayer’s funds — but recommend instead the book by Bittman and the nine books listed below.

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Jul 13

Review (Guest): Surveillance or Security?: The Risks Posed by New Wiretapping Technologies

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Susan Landau

5.0 out of 5 stars Definitive text on the topic July 8, 2011

Ben Rothke

Surveillance or Security?: The Risks Posed by New Wiretapping Technologies is a hard book to categorize. It is not about security, but it deals extensively with it. It is not a law book, but legal topics are pervasive throughout the book. It is not a telecommunications book, but extensively details telco issues. Ultimately, the book is a most important overview of security and privacy and the nature of surveillance in current times.

Surveillance or Security? is one of the most pragmatic books on the topic is that the author never once uses the term Big Brother. Far too many books on privacy and surveillance are filled with hysteria and hyperbole and the threat of an Orwellian society. This book sticks to the raw facts and details the current state, that of insecure and porous networks around a surveillance society.

In this densely packed work, Susan Landau, a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University details the myriad layers around surveillance, national security, information security and privacy. Landau writes that her concern is not about legally authorized law enforcement and nationally security wiretapping; rather about the security risks of building surveillance into communications infrastructures.

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Apr 30

Review (Guest): The Squandered Computer: Evaluating the Business Alignment of Information Technologies

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Paul Strassmann

5.0 out of 5 stars Deserves careful study–a powerful message about technology March 4, 1999

By Lou Agosta (lagosta@21stcentury.net)

The main targets for Paul Strassmann’s unmasking of misconceptions about the business use of computers include the Gartner Group, advocates of Best Practices, and that mouth piece of computing vendors, the computing trade press (e.g., CIO Magazine). While not a particularly angry polemic, Strassmann is all the more devastating for his understated, simple, and straight-forward marshaling of basic facts.

The Gartner group is making a fortune telling executives in various industries what per cent of revenue for a particular vertical industry should be spent on their firms computing function in order to remain profitable. For example, insurance spends a relatively high per cent of revenue, whereas manufacturing is less. Retail is in the middle. In industry after industry, Strassmann demonstrates there is no correlation in spending on computers and profitability. None.

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Mar 22

NATO BOOK: Internet-Based Intelligence in Public Health Emergencies

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Internet‐Based Intelligence in Public Health Emergencies

Early Detection and Response in Disease Outbreak Crises

Editors Mordini, E., Green, M.  Pub. date March 2013  Pages 160  Binding softcover
Volume 105 of NATO Science for Peace and Security Series – E: Human and Societal Dynamics
ISBN 978-1-61499-174-8
Subject Computer & Communication Sciences, Security & Terrorism, Social Sciences

Momentous social events result from the sum of micro-level changes in daily individual life, and by observing and fusing publicly available data, such as web searches and other internet traffic, it is possible to anticipate events such as disease outbreaks. However, this ability is not without risks, and public concern about the possible consequences of improper use of this technology cannot be ignored. Opportunities for open discussion and democratic scrutiny are required

This book has its origins in the workshop Internet-Based Intelligence for Public Health Emergencies and Disease Outbreak: Technical, Medical, and Regulatory Issues, held in Haifa, Israel, in March 2011. The workshop was attended by 28 invited delegates from nine countries, representing various disciplines such as public health, ethics, sociology, informatics, policy-making, intelligence and security, and was supported by the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme. Its starting point was the 2009 outbreak of swine flu in Mexico. The book includes both scientific contributions presented during the meeting and some additional articles that were submitted later.

Interactions between public health and information and communication technologies are destined to be of great importance in the future. This book is a contribution to the ongoing dialogue between scholars and practitioners, which will be essential to public acceptance and safety as we rely more and more on the internet for predicting trends, decision-making and communication with the public.

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Mar 6

Review: Open Source Intelligence Techniques: Resources for Searching and Analyzing Online Information

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Michael Bazzell

4.0 out of 5 stars A Useful Contribution–See the Table of Contents, January 30, 2013

This review is from: Open Source Intelligence Techniques: Resources for Searching and Analyzing Online Information (Paperback)

I started the modern Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) movement in 1988, picking up where earlier pioneers such as Jan Herring, former NIO for S&T, left off. We are still fighting this battle. The CIA Open Source Center (OSC) is retarded — it does less than 10% of what could be done by a proper Open Source Agency (see tiny url forward slash OSA2011), and compounds their ignorance by classifying what they produce.

I *like* this book. If you have any doubts at all, use the superb Inside the Book feature that is one of Amazon’s signal innovations. If you believe — as the OSC believes — that OSINT is all about online surfing in English, this is a great book. It is a good complement to Ran Hock’s stuff, or Arno Reuser’s stuff, and Ben Benavides stuff, and I certainly also recommend the Super-Searcher series and anything by Mary Ellen Bates.

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Jan 30

Review: Using Data Sharing to Improve Coordination in Peacebuilding: Report of a Workshop on Technology, Science, and Peacebuilding

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Andrew Robertson and Steve Olson (eds.)

4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent First Step, Four Disappointments, January 2, 2013

This is one of the more useful reports to come out of the US Institute of Peace and its collaborative effort with the National Academy of Engineering and I highly recommend it for either free reading online at the National Academies Press (individual) or for library purchase for the information, intelligence, diplomacy, civil-military, stabilization & reconstruction, and decision-support sections.

The goals are worthy but overly scientific & technical (the cultural part always comes first): to apply science and technology to the process of peacebuilding and stabilization; to promote systematic communications among organizations across political and other boundaries; and to apply science and technology to pressing conflict issues. La di dah. I just want to know if there is a dead donkey at the bottom of this particular well.

Secondary and equally ambitious goals that their current staffing model cannot support:
1. Adopt the agricultural extension services model to peacebuilding
2. Use data sharing to improve coordination in peacebuilding
3. Sense emerging conflicts (at least they realize the secret intelligence world does NOT do this)
4. Harness systems methods for delivery of peacebuilding services.

FOUR STRONG THEMES MAKE THIS BOOK VALUABLE:
1. Data sharing requires working across a technology-culture divide
2. Information sharing requires building and maintaining trust
3. Information sharing requires linking civilian-military policy discussions to technology
4. Collaboration software needs to be aligned with user needs.

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Jan 2