Two Tech Bios

I’ve been reading the biographies of two men who are pure geniuses. In the past, my non-fiction reading was usually limited to cookbooks and how-to guides, but lately I find myself drawn more and more to true stories about real people’s lives. As a matter of fact, both of these books were recommended to me by my husband, who read them first (and who is also a genius in my opinion). So I guess I have him to thank for my newfound love of biographies.

Ghost in the Wires

by Kevin Mitnick

I just finished listening to this fascinating audiobook. As the subtitle says, it’s the tale of Mitnick’s “adventures as the world’s most wanted hacker.” (Whenever I hear the word hacker, that brilliant Weird Al song, “It’s All About the Pentiums,” starts playing in my head: “What’cha wanna do? Wanna be hackers? Code crackers? Slackers, wasting time with all the chatroom yackers, nine to five chillin’ at Hewlett-Packard!” But I digress.)

Without question, Mitnick possesses uncanny problem-solving and social engineering skills. His story is almost unbelievable, describing one expertly executed exploit after another. What amazes me most is that, after being chased by the FBI and spending time in prison for his crimes, he now has a successful career in security consulting, i.e., companies now pay him to hack into their systems to reveal their weaknesses. Who would have thought! It sounds like the perfect job for him.

Now I can’t wait to read The Art of Deception, his first book in which he basically tells people how to avoid falling for scams like the ones he pulled off.

 Steve Jobs

by Walter Isaacson

I’m still working my way through this tome. Actually, I’m reading the Kindle edition (on my iPhone, of course), so it’s not as physically heavy as the 656-page hardcover edition. One might find the sheer length intimidating, but let me assure you that the text itself is very readable and engaging, almost like reading a novel, except the characters and events are all real.

Our home and daily life is literally pervaded by Apple devices (iPhones, iPads, computers, and an Apple TV), so make no mistake, we hold Steve Jobs in high regard around here. With all due respect to Jobs’ memory, my husband and I both marvelled at some of the crazy things he did in his lifetime. Although it certainly didn’t make him an easy person to live or work with, it was probably because of, not in spite of, that craziness, or should I say intense perfectionism, that he was able to accomplish all he did.

Next, I’m thinking perhaps I should read his Apple cofounder’s biography, iWoz. (Steve Wozniak, by the way, wrote the forward for Kevin Mitnick’s book.)

In praise of audiobooks

Read me a story!

As a child, I was extremely fortunate to have a mother who often read to me at home. At school too, I used to love when the teacher would spend a whole period reading aloud from a chapter book. I suppose that part of me never really grew up.

As an adult, I still enjoy the pleasure of listening to someone else read to me. Audiobooks allow me to drive, or wash dishes, or do laundry, while savouring a good novel or non-fiction book at the same time. I’ve enjoyed many more books this way than I would have had time to sit down and read otherwise.

The latest library gadget: Playaways

Our library has something new to offer to audiobook lovers like me. They’re called Playaways. Each one comes loaded with a prerecorded audiobook. All the user has to do is insert one AAA battery and plug in a pair of earbuds. (The library sells earbuds for $2 to patrons who don’t have their own.)

The player is easy to use—not too many buttons—and small enough to fit in one’s pocket. Playaways can be checked out for 3 weeks, just like books, and patrons can either browse the selection on the shelf or request titles from other branches (again, just like books).

Downloads still win in my books

Personally, my favourite method of listening to audiobooks is still on my iPhone. I’m a big fan of downloadLibrary, through which our library also offers a wide selection of downloadable audiobooks. My phone goes with me everywhere, so whether I’m in the car or doing chores around the house, I can carry my audiobooks with me. Of course, the same holds true for Playaways, which are also very portable.

The advantage of downloaded audiobooks is that I can get them instantly at home, without having to go to the library to check out a physical copy. I never have to worry about overdue fines either, since the files automatically expire after the loan period is over. Hence, I never have to make a mad dash to return them in the bookdrop either.

Books on CD take third place

As for my third favourite kind of audiobook we offer, books on CD were a great invention at first, but the only thing they have going for them now is the fact that we have a lot of them in our collection. To me, they are more inconvenient because I can only play them in my car or on my computer. This is fine when I am driving or sitting at my desk, but it gets a little cumbersome to carry my laptop with me when I am running up and down the stairs to check on a load of laundry.

I think Playaways are great for people like me who like to listen to audiobooks on the go, especially for those who aren’t able to download audiobooks or who don’t own an mp3 player. I, for one, am hoping that our library will continue to expand our collection of these neat little devices.