Posted by Jason Polak on 01. March 2018 · Write a comment · Categories: book · Tags: ,

Today, public-key cryptography is everywhere, offering some measure of security for virtually all internet commerce transactions and secure shell connections. It’s hard to imagine life without it, even though most people aren’t aware of it.

Steven Levy’s Crypto is a great book to explain it and how it all came about. In fact, I first read it almost twenty years ago when I was in high school, and just read it again the other day.

How did encryption in the digital age start out? How did public-key cryptography get invented? And how did public-key crypto get into the hands of pretty much everyone with a web browser all over the world despite the attempts of the U.S. government to control it? These questions are answered in Levy’s book.
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Posted by Jason Polak on 14. February 2018 · Write a comment · Categories: book · Tags: , , , ,

I first heard of Edward Snowden when I was still a PhD student. He became world-famous for leaking huge numbers of NSA documents on their surveillance and data collection program, whose primary aim is to indiscriminately collect as much private data from as many people as they can, regardless of whether they were suspected in any wrongdoing.

How this leak happened, and what the leak contained, is detailed in No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald. As Snowden entrusted Greenwald with the leaked documents, Greenwald is in a unique position to offer a detailed and accurate account of Snowden’s leaked files.

The bulk of Snowden’s documents describe the huge amounts of data are collected from pretty much anyone the NSA can get their hands on, regardless of who they are or where they live in the world. This data comes from various sources: intercepted internet transmissions, agreements with phone companies like AT&T, agreements with tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, and other spy agencies. The data collected include the exact times and durations of phone calls, and the contents and metadata of emails. The data accumulated by the NSA is so huge that they have to build massive petabyte data centers to store it.

Greenwald’s book is frightening. It describes NSA’s indiscriminate and often illegal data collection that pretty much does nothing to keep anyone safe and costs billions of dollars. That the U.S. Government and its partner countries have convinced enough people that this type of spying is worth it is the most bewildering aspect of all, considering that the probability of being killed in a terrorist act is so miniscule.

I also found it alarming that so many people, including journalists, denounced Greenwald and his associates for the leaks. A journalist for the New York Times went so far as to lie in an article, and that was just one of many fabrications Greenwald endured to bring the leaked documents to the world. Of course, Greenwald and Snowden also had great support as well. And lest anyone think that the leaked documents compromised national security, they should actually read this book in which it clearly shows that Snowden carefully selected his documents so that they did not reveal sensitive information that could compromise any security whatsoever.

Greenwald has done a major service to humanity in writing this book and his articles, and reporting on the Snowden leaks. Even so, I think the battle has only begun for basic human rights and existence in the face of massive data analytics in the hands of the power-hungry. Data-driven technology has only begun to mature and in the future we will see something that we’ve never seen before: a future where our lives are manipulated so quickly that most of us will be in danger of losing balance and losing control of some of the best things that make human life liveable. With the onslaught of data analytics and machine learning techniques, I fear that proponents of indiscriminate spying will only redouble their efforts to make the lives of the rest of us worse in their quest for their own power and money.

Everyone should read this book. Highly recommended.

By the way, if you’re interested in this book (and you should be), read Bruce Schneier’s Data and Goliath. Schneier, an expert in computer security, worked with Greenwald on the Snowden files. Data and Goliath is more focused and detailed on the technical aspects of indiscriminate data collection and espionage, whereas Greenwald’s book is more about the initial event and the effort it took to actually get this crucial information to the public.

Posted by guest on 05. February 2013 · 1 comment · Categories: books · Tags: , ,
A Guest Post by Emily Shier

From Here to Infinity: A Guide to Today’s Mathematics
By Ian Stewart
1996 edition

“From Here to Infinity” is an enchanting read, which inspires both budding mathematicians, and curious outsiders alike. For mathematicians are mysterious beings to the general population; enshrouded in a cloak of cryptic symbols, they slip into another world, with an aura the ignorant classify as having a residue of chalky smoke, and mundane arithmetic.

Stewart bridges the gap between the uninformed individual and the world of mathematics with friendly, open approach. Several comprehensive chapters discuss intriguing topics, including chaos theory, knots, computer technology, algorithms, fractals, Fermat’s last theorem, and how to increase one’s odds of winning the lottery.

Never speaking down to the reader, Stewart provides many examples to illustrate a concept, which are punctuated with the occasional joke. For the reader with little exposure, the examples are fascinating, and show another side of thinking all together. However, as the examples develop, the level of math increases steeply. But, the initial feeling of frustration with a challenging idea gives way to a feeling of satisfied accomplishment with the completion of each chapter.
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Posted by Jason Polak on 30. December 2012 · Write a comment · Categories: books, number-theory · Tags: , ,

Posting has slowed a little bit this month because of holidays, but in the last couple weeks during my visit home I decided to refresh some basic knowledge of valuation theory by going through thoroughly the book “Introduction to p-adic Numbers and Valuation Theory” by George Bachman. Naturally, I wrote this quick review.

Bachman’s book is designed to be a leisurely introduction to valuation theory and p-adic numbers. It has only 152 pages and naturally cannot be comprehensive. It is, rather, an enjoyable read that does not require much advanced knowledge, though some experience with metric spaces is certainly required to fully appreciate the later chapters on the extension of valuations.
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